By Joe Capozzi

As town officials embark on ambitious plans to protect Briny Breezes from sea level rise, they’re looking for creative ways to help pay for the expensive ongoing project. 
Town Council members took one such step Aug. 25 when they voted to use money from Briny Breezes’ federal American Rescue Plan Act allocation to meet the matching requirements of a $330,000 state resiliency grant.
Briny Breezes received the Resilient Florida Program grant in June. It requires the town and corporation to pay $145,000 in matching money, making $475,000 available to Briny Breezes for a sustainability study and a stormwater master plan. 
The town also received a $289,000 ARPA allocation this year as part of the government’s pandemic relief efforts, sent in two payments. The first payment, $144,747, went toward the installation of a water main in District 4 of Briny Breezes.
Town officials weren’t sure whether they’d receive the second payment this year. But when it arrived in late July, Town Manager William Thrasher recommended its use as matching money for the state grant.
“We can’t use other state money for the cost share, but we can use federal money for the cost share,’’ he said in an interview. “I’ve reported to the federal government how we used that fund and as far as I know there’s been no problem with that. I thought it would be wise to take this opportunity to use the federal money to do this.’’
According to a resolution approved by the council, ARPA money may be used for the Briny government’s water and sewer improvements and stormwater management, “including being applied as nonfederal grant matching funds for nonfederal grants used for such infrastructure purposes.’’ 
For Briny Breezes, where the property tax rate is already at the maximum allowed under state law, the grant will help pay for plans and studies needed to prepare construction-ready documents for enhanced sea walls, an improved stormwater drainage system and other 50-year adaptation measures. 
Though construction costs will be in the millions, Thrasher said he’s optimistic the town will receive assistance from federal and state grants. 
In other business, the council endorsed a plan to eliminate a requirement to hold special elections to fill Town Council vacancies. If the measure is approved on second reading, the council would appoint a qualified elector to fill vacancies due to an incumbent’s death, resignation or removal from office.
The current ordinance requires a special election if the council fails to fill a vacancy at or before the council’s second regular meeting after the vacancy occurs. The proposed changes would remove both the deadline for appointing vacancies and a special election, which can be expensive.
The council will meet at 5 p.m. on Sept. 8 to set a tentative tax rate, which continues to be at the maximum allowed under state law, of $10 for every $1,000 of taxable value. That amounts to a 13.3% tax increase due to rising property values in town. A final rate and budget will be voted on at 5 p.m. Sept. 22.

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