You may recall our report from last week that the town was considering tacking an additional $100 per room fee on all vacation rental properties on the beach.
Councilman Jim Atterholt was hoping to hear from vacation property owners at the final budget public hearing, which is this Thursday at 5PM. Atterholt felt the public wasn’t given any notice that the new fee would be on the agenda.
The new fee had been mentioned several times in passing at previous meetings by Councilman Bill Veach. Veach wants the town to start banking money to deal with the shortage in workforce housing. He blames the lack of affordable housing for workers on the beach on the explosion of vacation rentals.
According to town attorney John Herin, the new fees have already been approved. Apparently when the town council approved the long list of fee increases at its first budget public hearing on September 6th, that was all that was needed to start the ball rolling on charging more. Many people were of the understanding that the fees would have to be part of the second budget public hearing, and a second vote, just like the full budget. Certainly Atterholt believed that at the time. According to Herin, that’s not the case.
Vacation property owners started to receive e-mails with the additional fees days after the first budget public hearing. That caused quite a bit of confusion for many people who were under the impression that they would get their three minutes to speak about the fee increase, in front of the town council, this Thursday night.
In an e-mail exchange with a local resident, Herin says being that the fees were approved by resolution on September 6th, that was all Town Manager Roger Hernstadt needed to start sending out the fee increase notices. “Except for a small number of exceptions that do not apply to this situation resolutions do not require more than one reading by the Town Council, only ordinances require two readings and two public hearings.”
Herin then got even more technical with the local resident. “Florida law does not mandate that the Town Council (or any other city or county in the State of Florida) provide notice of every item that may be discussed at a public meeting. Furthermore, the courts of this state have rejected such a requirement because it could effectively preclude access to meetings by members of the general public who wish to bring specific issues before a governmental body.”
It’s the perception of how this was done that bothers Atterholt. When, on September 6th, Atterholt made the statement there was another two weeks (before the fee increase might be passed) to hear from vacation property owners, neither Herin or Hernstadt spoke up to tell him that when they approved the resolution it was a done deal. They could have easily set him straight right then and there but chose to remain silent.
Herin also said that the courts have stated, “there is no prohibition on a local government adding items to an agenda, because ‘there is no requirement in the sunshine law that specific matters to be addressed by a public body be listed in advance of the meeting on an agenda.’
Despite what Herin said, vacation rental owners believe the town snuck this fee increase in without giving them any notice or warning. It’s not clear if any vacation rental property owners plan to attend the meeting on Thursday to try to get the town to reverse its decision, or at least reduce the $100 per room fee.
Adding to the public’s confusion about the fee increase is that there is an ordinance and a public hearing on the agenda for the council’s 3PM meeting on Thursday (see below). If the higher fees still need to be voted on, and there are two public hearings, why did the letters with those higher fees already go out to vacation rental owners?
Councilman Dan Allers voted against the fee increases.