Commissioners Disagree Over Proposed Millage Rate
The Safety Harbor City Commission approved the City’s proposed millage rate and budget for fiscal year 2015/16 on first reading last week, voting to keep the millage rate the same as it was last year with a total budget of $54,082,630.
The proposed millage rate of 4.0479 per $1,000 of assessed property value is 4.31 percent higher than the rollback rate of 3.8808 and will generate more than $4.1 million in ad valorem revenue, an increase of $181,920 over last year.
Although the budget and millage rate have been discussed in numerous goal-setting sessions, meetings and work-shops over the past few months, the commission was still divided when it came time to vote on the items for the first time last Wednesday.
During a lengthy discussion on the agenda item, Commissioner Carlos Diaz said he would rather set the rate at 3.9569 mills, a figure that represents the maximum millage rate allowed requiring a majority vote.
“My position on it is, unless we’re purposely trying to increase our reserves for some other capitol project that we’re looking at, I think that we should probably go back to the 3.95 rate,” Diaz said. “I just don’t want to keep putting more into reserves unless we’re trying to build up the reserves for some project we’re going to be doing.”
“Our reserves are very healthy, as a lot here on the commission have noted,” he added. “So we either have a plan for it, or we go back to the 3.95, which puts us pretty much even.”
“With a fair amount in reserves…I think the 3.59 number gets us at a good point,” Commissioner Cliff Merz concurred. “The difference between the two is small.”
When asked, City Manager Matt Spoor said the City had $7.1 million in reserves at the beginning of this year, and that figure is expected to rise to $7.8 million by the end of FY16.
But despite the arguments in favor of the lower rate, there was more support to keep the millage rate the same as last year.
Commissioner Janet Hooper said she was against lowering the rate and would like to see some of the additional revenue generated put towards city staff.
“I believe our staff is what makes this city so great,” Hooper said. “From my point of view, that’s where I want to invest. I’m very much against going back to 3.95.”
“I basically agree with what Commissioner Hooper said,” Vice Mayor Andy Zodrow added while admitting he had touted the size of the city’s reserves since being elected last year.
“It’s sort of frustrating for me because last year I talked about how healthy the reserves are, but…I just think it’s a better prudent financial decision to keep taxes where they are and use that money as necessary.”
Mayor Andy Steingold took the middle ground, stating “an argument could be made both ways,” and either option was “not necessarily wrong or right.”
But when pressed, he said that if he were to support the lower rate this time, he would not vote to increase the millage rate next year, a statement that caught Diaz off guard.
“Why would you even say that position, it’s a year away?” Diaz asked. “That’s a threat.”
“It’s definitely not a threat,” Steingold countered. “But I’m telling you, I don’t want to be in a position to increase the millage rate next year.”
Eventually the commission elected to keep the millage rate the same, passing the proposal by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Diaz voicing the sole nay vote. The proposed budget passed by a vote of 5-0.
Both the proposed millage rate and budget for FY 15/16 will be up for a second and final reading before the City Commission during its next meeting on Monday, September 21 at 7:30 p.m. at Safety Harbor City Hall.
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