Cedar Key faces budget woes; updates water situation

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By Jerry Lawrence

Mayor Gene Hodges opened the City Commission meeting by informing all present that the City of Cedar Key was short on cash. Commissioner Scott Denison inquired into the city’s readiness to switch to using QuickBooks accounting software by the new fiscal year beginning October 1. Deputy Clerk Teresa George said that she felt comfortable that QuickBooks would be up and running for the new fiscal year.
Fire Chief Robert Robinson gave a status update on the distribution of water throughout the city.
As of Monday, July 16, 2012, the fire department is no longer responsible for the distribution of water. That responsibility has shifted to the Water and Sewer Management office. Residents and visitors are encouraged to use the water buffaloes located around town, and bottled water can still be obtained at the Cedar Key Water and Sewer District office on 3rd Street.
Chief Robinson also gave an update on the quality of city water. On June 28, 2012, the chloride was at 1,275 milligrams per liter. As of July 17, 2012, the level of chloride was down to 362 milligrams per liter. Even though this is a significant drop in chloride levels, the levels are still too high for safe drinking.
Chief Robinson mentioned that a lot of people were disappointed that Cedar Key did not have any fireworks for the 4th of July celebration. The fire department has volunteered to take on the fireworks project to ensure that Cedar Key will have a fireworks show for city residents and the many visitors who come to Cedar Key to celebrate.
Fire Chief Robinson brought up for discussion the damage caused by Tropical Storm Debby and whether or not the city responded as quickly as they could to save the docks that were destroyed. The commissioners expressed their complete faith that Robinson remain at the helm of the city’s emergency management team.
Police Chief Sandlin reported that last Tuesday night there was a meth-house bust in Cedar Key. Four individuals from Cedar Key were arrested for manufacturing and trafficking in methamphetamines. Sandlin congratulated the Cedar Key Police Department and the Levy County Sheriff’s Drug Task Force for shutting down the methamphetamine house.
Josh Wilson brought up the question of how to rent boat slips to the seven people currently on the waiting list. City code states that a person can only rent one slip at a time. The problem that the city faces is that the individual at the top of the waiting list already rents three boat slips. After much discussion, the commissioners decided to bypass the individual at the top of the list with slips already rented, and to rent to those on the list who want to rent their first slip.
Mayor Hodges and Dale Register reiterated that the commissioners will be spending a lot of their time working on and solving the city’s budget crisis. Commissioner Register stated that the commissioners did not need to entertain any other proposals or endeavors until they finished with the budget some time in September.
Commissioner Denison then addressed Mayor Hodges and Commissioner Register, saying that they had consistently said that the city was near bankruptcy. In looking at the budget in front of him, Commissioner Denison noted that the city had over $400,000 in reserves. It was pointed out that there was $158,000 in the garbage account and close to $300,000 in the marina fund. Commissioner Denison said that there was no code restriction on how the marina funds could be spent.
Josh Wilson presented an update on the repairs to the community center. Interior doors have been replaced, and a freezer has been purchased. A discussion ensued about the next priority item to take care of at the community center. The commissioners were discussing adding exterior lights to the building for safety, but when Wilson mentioned the concern about the existing gas stove, and when Fire Chief Robinson clearly voiced how uncomfortable he was with the existing stove, the stove turned out to be the number one priority.
Fire Chief Robinson explained that in many gas stoves there is a thermal coupling that cuts off the gas when the pilot light goes out. The stove in the community center is not equipped with a thermal coupling. Therefore, when the gas to the stove is turned on at the wall, gas begins to flow. If pilot lights are not lit, then gas flows into the building.
In recognizing the potentially dangerous situation, the commissioners directed Wilson to take action immediately to get rid of the existing stove and to replace it with a stove that has a safety thermal coupling which will switch off the gas. The exterior lights were put on the back burner.