Commission Discusses Raising Millage, Cutting Funding At Budget Workshop
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
My husband and I are 23 year Safety Harbor residents. We just retired and went to our first public town meeting. We could not believe how badly the meeting was handled. Commissioner Blake rudely attacked Mayor Steingold over the funding of outside agencies. These so called “outside agencies” are in “your” town! They help people that are less fortunate than others. When did the aesthetics of Safety Harbor become more important than helping those people. With 7 million in reserve, one day garbage pickup….surely you didn’t need to take any of their funding away. Everyone on the city commission was voted in by the people. I for one will be changing my vote!
I’m not a big fan of increasing the millage rate again. Wasn’t it increased by 10% last year as well?
As long as property values are increasing, the millage rate can be held steady and city revenue will still increase. So, are other sources of revenue declining or are city expenditures increasing faster than property values?
Paul, I reached out to City Manager Matt Spoor, and he emailed this reply to your question:
“Property Tax revenue makes up less than 33% of all general fund revenue. Other General Fund revenue streams have remained flat or decreased. The overall budget increase was 2.8%. Property values rose 5.04% last year. In theory, if property tax revenue made up 100% of the general fund revenue than yes no tax increase would be needed, in fact the CC could decrease the tax rate, but it would be three times the rate it is today……. which is impossible as state law caps the rate at 10 mills.”
I hope this helps. Thank you for your comment.
Jeff, thanks for reaching out to Matt. And Matt, thanks for your explanation. That helps a lot.
My follow-up would be, if other General Fund revenue streams have remained flat or decreased, why isn’t more being done to increase them? If this trend of increasing the millage rate by 8-10% per year continues, in a little over a decade we’ll be at that max 10% millage rate, which would be a huge burden on homeowners and leave the city in a position where it has no other option but to increase other streams of revenue anyway.