The Safety Harbor City Commission hunkered down Monday night for what was expected to be a long evening full of debate, discussion and direction taking during its annual midsummer budget workshop.
But instead of burning the midnight oil, the commission wrapped things up in a fairly tidy three hours, thanks to a streamlined presentation by City staff and the fact that many of the big issues had already been addressed in previous workshops and meetings.
At the conclusion of the session, the five commissioners reached a consensus one key component of next year’s budget: they recommended raising the millage rate, from 3.7343 to 4.0479, an increase of 8.4 percent that would bring in more than $575,000 in additional revenue.
“The big question is, do you want to shoot for a lower millage rate or are you comfortable with the millage rate we discussed?” Mayor Andy Steingold asked his fellow commissioners. “You could keep the millage the same. But if you want to have a balanced budget with the same millage rate or a rollback rate, you gotta start cutting.”
“It’s pretty bold to raise the millage rate, but I think people that live in a great community expect a lot of quality,” the mayor admitted. “The City offers a tremendous amount of services to its citizens and it’s a quality place to live. Unfortunately, nothing is for free.”
While the other four commissioners agreed to support the millage increase, they were split on a number of other issues.
Some of the biggest discussions had to do with three items that topped the staff’s list of cuts: decreasing city employees’ merit pay raises from three percent to two percent; decreasing their health insurance coverage from ten percent to five percent; and cutting funding of outside agencies.
Of the three, the decision of whether or not to cut $77,000 in funding to four outside agencies – the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center, the Chamber of Commerce, the Neighborly Care Network and Paint Your Heart Out – was the most divisive.
“I can’t see raising people’s taxes to give it to an outside agency,” Commissioner Rick Blake said.
“Again, the organizations we’re giving it to are awesome, phenomenal. But…is it right for us to charge the public something and then distribute it to outside agencies?”
Mayor Steingold was quick to counter that opinion.
“I think it’s hard to say no to the agencies,” he said. “I’m not big on taking from citizens to give to organizations, but the organizations serve more than just piggy banks for money for the city. They’re serving citizens.”
“Part of the quality of living in Safety Harbor is to have these organizations.”
Ultimately the commission instructed staff to advertise the proposed increase millage rate in TRIM notices that must be sent out by Friday, August 1, and to reinstate the first three items on the proposed list of cuts.
The issues will be up for debate during a pair of public hearings that are scheduled for September 3rd and 15th.
If all the recommendations are approved, the city is looking at a budget deficit of approximately $55,000.
Note: Commissioner Rick Blake also owns the parent company of Safety Harbor Connect.com