The Dania Beach City Commission received swift backlash from its constituents after approving a 344 percent travel budget increase for its members last Tuesday, May 14. Now, at least one commissioner is backtracking on the decision.
Vice Mayor Lauren Odman says she was contacted by several disgruntled residents about the policy, which was detailed in the Sun Sentinel last week. Odman says she pushed to reduce the original proposal from $90,000 to $80,000 and now will push for a further reduction.
"Following our most recent commission meeting I was contacted by several of our residents who expressed their concern with the most recent travel policy expense increases," Odman tells New Times. "After meeting with our city staff, I am moving forward to further scale back the policy."
Commissioners of the small Broward city just north of Hollywood voted to increase their travel budget from $18,000 to $80,000 annually. That makes the per-commissioner budget — $16,000 — greater than that of Fort Lauderdale, Hallandale, or Hollywood.
According to the Dania Beach Finance Department, the commissioners are set to receive $6,000 from the Community Redevelopment Agency for their roles as members of the CRA board in addition to $10,000 they receive for travel as city commission members.
It's unusual for a city of Dania Beach's size to have such a large travel budget for its commissioners. In comparison, the town of Miami Lakes, which has a population size similar to Dania Beach's population at around 30,000 people, has a total travel allowance of $15,000 for its entire city commission.
"A 344 percent spending increase makes me wonder, why such a fast increase? And for travel? How big is Dania?" says Dania Beach resident Bonnie Canino. "I am sure my property taxes will be going up."
The commission says it hopes to use these extra travel expenses to attend conferences to better serve the Dania community. But despite passing in a 4-to-1 vote, the measure is up for amendment during the next commission meeting on Tuesday, May 28.
“I don’t see why we’re arguing over a price for continuing education,” Commissioner Chickie Brandimarte told the Sun Sentinel. “The people who elected us trust us to know what’s best.”
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Although Vice Mayor Odman says she does see a value in attending conferences, she's taking into account the significant backlash the commission received after approving the astronomical budget increase.
"While education and travel for meetings with our state and national constituency continue to be an important aspect of our job, there is nothing I can place above representation of our residents on the dais," Odman says.
In addition to her frustration with this new travel policy, Canino says she hopes the commission works in the interest of taxpayers even if they are not present themselves at these public meetings to voice their concerns.
"They have these meetings where they vote on these changes. The public is welcome to show up, but most of us are busy working to pay for bills and [do not have] the time to pay too much attention to the stuff that they are passing," Canino says. "We put our trust with these commissioners to do the fair and right thing for the residents and city; that they aren't hurting or ripping off the residents who live for years in this city."