The city of Key West's leaders dug into the 2014 budget season Monday, going line by line through departments, building projects, nonprofit funding and staffing levels.
With Mayor Craig Cates on vacation for the month of July and Commissioner Mark Rossi also absent, five city commissioners took on the task in two sessions stretched out from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Key West is tentatively looking at a higher property tax, although the commission will set the tentative millage rate Tuesday to fund a proposed $52.5 million annual budget that begins Oct. 1.
As it stood Monday, the proposed millage rate is 2.88 per $1,000 of value.
The tax increase would amount to an additional $26 a year for a home valued at $312,000.
The island has $24.3 million in the bank reserved for $23 million in oncoming building projects, starting with $17.2 million to reconstruct the ailing Glynn Archer School building into a grand City Hall and $4.9 million to create a new fire station on Angela Street.
Also, the city has pledged to spend $1 million on renovations needed to make the Frederick Douglass Gym in Bahama Village whole again.
The gym's kitchen, restrooms and office have been closed off as safety hazards for over a year.
Budget hearings continue today, with sessions from 9 a.m. to noon and 1:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Old City Hall, 510 Greene St.
The city's proposed 2014 budget is available in detail on its website, www.keywestcity.com.
Commissioners Monday tentatively added two city hall positions to the budget, a new attorney for City Attorney Shawn Smith's office to start at $65,000 in salary, and an assistant for the historic planner, at about $44,000 a year.
Smith is overworked to the point where City Manager Bob Vitas said he isn't getting the "face time" he needs.
Commissioner Clayton Lopez said he has found it difficult to immediately reach Smith.
"That's no fault of his own," Lopez said. "He always calls me back, but it's nowhere near as immediate as it once was. I know how busy the man is."
The city's historic district, and stringent guidelines enforced by the Historic Architectural Review Commission, supplies increasing work for the planning department, said City Planner Don Craig.
Although Key West began this year charging application fees for HARC applications, the work load is exhausting for the city's sole historic planner Enid Torregrosa, said Craig.
"There are 2,200 applications this year that require HARC review," said Craig. "That's eight applications a day."
When Torregrosa is on vacation or unavailable, Craig said he is the one that fills in reviewing applications.
"I don't think you need to have me reviewing HARC applications," Craig said. "All the time she is spending (reviewing applications) is less time she can spend educating the public."
Commissioners must sift through each budget line, each request, which range in amounts.
The Southernmost Hockey Club is set for $180,000 to raise its floor, which floods routinely, according to Assistant City Manager Mark Finigan.
"They have $90,000 to contribute, 50 percent of the improvement," Finigan told commissioners.
Key West's leaders are also considering a $300,000 improvement to the White Street Pier to replace and repair railings.
Commissioners and city staff were still reviewing budget lines until 5:45 p.m. Monday.
Today, they will decide whether a third day is needed to air out the budget.