By Steve Plunkett
Prompted in part by a wave of car thefts, the town will soon hire an additional police officer to combat crime.
Police Chief Edward Allen reported two cases of grand theft auto at the Town Commission’s July meeting. At the August meeting he said one had been recovered but three more were stolen, making a total of eight this year. Two other vehicles were burglarized.
“We’ve gone door to door really, requesting people, reminding them to be safe and remove their belongings and lock their cars,” Allen said.
Mayor Scott Morgan aimed some “finger-wagging” at residents who leave keys in their vehicles or leave them running or with doors open. Most late-model cars come with key fobs that make starting easy, he said.
“You leave it in the car — all you have to do is depress the brake and push a button and off they go,” the mayor said. “We find them driving down the road, we catch them on the cameras either north or south. But there’s nothing you can do after that point but locate the car at some point.”
Last year Gulf Stream had only one automobile stolen and in 2018 none, Morgan said.
The budget for fiscal 2021, which starts Oct. 1, includes $88,812 in salary and benefits for the new officer. The addition will allow three cruisers to be on patrol at the same time instead of two.
“That’s a 50% increase in coverage in our town,” Morgan said.
Commissioners also approved spending $28,058 from this year’s budget for 12 body cameras for its police force. Last year they set aside $25,000 to replace aging in-car cameras, but Allen and Town Manager Greg Dunham decided body cameras were more beneficial.
“With a car camera, if you do like a traffic stop and you step 2 feet out of the range, you’re out of the picture, you have no more picture at all,” Allen said. A body camera “stays with the person.”
Commissioners also set a tentative tax rate for the coming fiscal year at the rollback rate, $3.76 per $1,000 of taxable value. It was the fifth year in a row they have set taxes either at or below the rollback rate. The levy will generate $4.6 million for town operations, the same amount as the current fiscal year.
Big-ticket items include $200,000 for “smart” water meters and $200,778 for planning road and drainage work in the north Core area, part of the 10-year capital improvement plan. Virtual public hearings on the 2020-2021 budget will be at 5:01 p.m. on Sept. 11 and Sept. 22.
In other business, commissioners learned that the new water main on State Road A1A from Golfview Drive to Sea Road would need to go under the southbound lane instead of next to the highway. The area between the road and Gulf Stream’s Australian pines was too crowded with other utilities, their engineering consultant said. The entire lane will be resurfaced as part of the project.
By Steve Plunkett