OKEECHOBEE — Montes De Oca is new city administrator and the city set the tax rate at 7.99 mills.
The Okeechobee City Council approved their proposed budget and approved an employment contract with their new administrator at Monday’s meeting.
The contract with Marcos Montes De Oca was negotiated by City Attorney John Cook and all of the items were negotiated in a congenial manner with little serious debate.
Mr. Montes De Oca will receive 15 days per year for vacation pay, more than most other city employees when they start employment. The city will provide $100 per month for his cell phone. He will receive 60 days severance pay if things don’t work out. The salary offered was $80,000.
Mr. Montes De Oca said he really looks forward to coming back home and contributing to a community he’s a part of.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s not a crazy change. I just want to get here, get my feet wet and use my experience I’ve gotten in the past and push toward the future,” he said.
He will leave his position as Public Works Director at the City of Belle Glade and said experience in that small city, should help him because the two communities have some things in common.
In the first 90 days, Mr. Montes De Oca said he wants to get up to speed on the existing projects the city is working on.
“I want to sit down with all the department heads and look at their budgets and the projects they are working on and then sit down with all the councilmen and learn their visions, and work from there,” he said.
Mayor Jim Kirk said he was very excited to have the new administrator on board. He’s already met and talked with him and likes his level of enthusiasm.
“He’s pleased to be with the city. I feel he’ll be a real asset for us and I suspect he’ll do a really good job for us,” he added.
The budget for 2015-2016 includes $9.85 million in total revenues. The expenditures planned include a $2,000 per year increase in salary for city council members, their first increase in over 20 years.
The Shared Services Network will receive $8,940 and the Economic Development or Chamber of Commerce would receive $10,000.
The city clerk budget totals $222,937, legal services $88,197, finance $268,723, general services $378,974, city police $2.2 million, fire department $1.46 million, and public works $1.77 million.
Each employee received one step on the salary schedule and a 2.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment in their salary.
The millage rate was set at 7.9932 mills that represent a 4.65 percent property tax increase.
The major expenditures include $200,000 for street paving, $65,000 to purchase a John Deere track skid steer loader, $25,000 to demolish buildings, $294,000 for new police cars, and about $95,000 for improvements to city hall.
An additional $118,211 will be raised in property taxes in the coming year.
Finance Director India Riedel pointed out the general fund revenues continue to outpace general fund expenditures.
Mayor Kirk said the city remains in a good financial position. He said the staff does a good job of putting the budget together and making the information understandable. He said that helps the council when they make decisions.
“We never like to increase taxes, but it was time. We have not had an increase in five years and we’ve reached a point where we can’t do that any longer,” he added.
Kirk said the property values have not recovered from state tax changes and from the economic downturn.
He said he was happy the city was able to give employees a raise this year.
“We’ve given them small raises through these tough times and didn’t lay off any people. We also didn’t hire a lot of new people when times were good. We have the same number of employees we had 10 years ago,” he added.
He said down the road the city will face expenses from the Taylor Creek Park project and also must purchase a new fire truck.
The budget includes some money for medians and landscape work at U.S. 441 and S.R. 70. A storm water grant of $300,000 was received from the state.
The city will also consider a roof replacement for the city police department.
Councilman Mike O’Connor said there are a number of things funded in the budget that should be reviewed by the new administrator. He suggested Mr. Montes De Oca might have different priorities.
The mayor issued a proclamation to recognize Sept. 17-23 as National Constitution Week.
The city honored firefighter Mike Skipper with a five-year service award.
Okeechobee Main Street also recognized the city for their financial support for the median beautification project on South Parrott Avenue. The Florida Secretary of State issued the award for the public and private partnership that made the project possible.
Charles M. Murphy is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News