The Safety Harbor City Commission approved the proposed budget and millage rate for FY 2015/16 on Monday night, with the budget resolution passing by a unanimous 5-0 vote, while the millage decision was met with more resistance.
As he did during the first reading of Resolution 2015-13 on September 9, Commissioner Carlos Diaz disagreed with keeping the same millage rate of 4.0479 per $1,000 of assessed property value, a move that would generate more than $4.1 million in ad valorem operating revenue for the City’s general fund and lead to an increase of $352,520 in the fund reserve.
According to the City, of that $352,000+ increase, $257,000 will go towards repayment to the general fund for a loan to begin work on the Waterfront Park, and $95,510 is to be returned to the fund reserve from general operating revenues, although Diaz believes the total will be much higher.
“At the 4.0479 millage rate, the surplus is going to be a lot higher than the $95,000. It’s probably going to be more around the $200,000 mark,” Diaz said, citing the appreciation of property values and potential future budget savings as factors leading to the higher amount. “So that money is basically going to go into the general fund.”
“It’s my belief is that unless we have something that we are saving up for, projecting for, some capital projects, I don’t think that the government should be increasing the amount of reserves for no reason.”
Mayor Andy Steingold countered by saying that he hopes by having extra money available in reserves, the City will be able to pursue some of their long-term capital projects.
“My response to that is…I’m hoping that we’ll come up with some capital improvement projects like the waterfront park project to invest back into the City instead of going into the general fund,” the mayor said.
“That’s one of the reasons why I was positive towards looking at this,” he added. “I think there were lots of projects that were put off or not discussed at all because the money is not there.”
While Diaz concurred with the mayor’s statement that the increase of $9.10 per $100,000 of assessed property value per year is not a large amount, he said it essentially equals a tax increase.
“I agree with you that whether it’s nine dollars or fourteen dollars per household, it’s a very minuscule amount for each household or resident,” Diaz said.
“The thing is, with 10,000 households, now it becomes $140,000, $150,000 extra into the City, which we really have no plans on spending,” he added. “At the end of the day, it’s not our money. It’s the people’s money.”
After little further discussion, the 4.0479 millage rate passed by a vote of 4-1, with Commissioner Diaz casting the lone “no” vote.
Immediately following the millage vote, the Commission unanimously passed the final budget, which was set at $54,082,630.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Mayor Steingold praised all the commissioners, as well as City staff members, for their hard work in getting the two items finalized.
“I just want to thank staff and City Manager Matt Spoor for putting together a budget,” the mayor stated during his Commission Report. “Every year they work hard trying to come up with facts and figures to substantiate the needs, and it really helps us tremendously with the effort they put in and the job that they do so.”
“And I want to thank the Commission for the healthy discussion,” he added. “We don’t always agree, but we somehow find our way to work through it, and I think the citizens of Safety Harbor are well-served by the fact that we’re up here having healthy discussions. If it was just a simple 5-0 vote…without heated discussions at times, I think we wouldn’t be serving the public the way we need to be serving the public.”
- Commissioners Disagree Over Proposed Millage Rate
- Commission Approves Start of First Phase of Waterfront Park Project