Saftey Harbor Millage Increase, 2014/15 Budget Finally Approved
After months of workshops and meetings, discussions and debates, the Safety Harbor City Commission approved a millage rate increase and the FY 2014-15 budget on Monday night.
But as has been the case throughout much of this process, the decisions didn’t come easy.
Two weeks ago the five commissioners went back and forth on the issues before eventually agreeing to raise the millage to 4.0497 and approve the proposed budget, so Monday’s second and final vote on both items appeared to be mere formalities.
But while the millage increase, which will generate ad valorem revenue of $3,931,280, quickly passed by a vote of 4-1 (Commissioner Andy Zodrow voiced the lone “nay” vote), when it came time to vote on the budget, another debate broke out.
The sticking point in the city’s proposed $62 million budget came down to $27,000, the amount the commission agreed to cut from funds being given to outside agencies at the previous meeting.
Mayor Andy Steingold, who voted against the budget due last time because of the issue, pleaded with his fellow commissioners on Monday night to rethink their position in regards to funding the non-profit agencies, which include the Mattie Williams Neighborhood Family Center and the Safety Harbor Chamber of Commerce.
“These organizations are basically staples in many people’s lives,” the mayor said. “I don’t see how, all of a sudden, we can decide we’re too conservative to come up with $27,000 to help these organizations out.”
“I mean we’re spending $1.6 million dollars on a park,” he added, referring to the city’s waterfront park project.
“In light of the amount that’s coming in that we’re spending, I think it’s pennies, and I think it’s money well spent.”
But Commissioner Rick Blake, who originally proposed the cut, reminded the mayor that had they not compromised on the budget, the millage increase would not have passed, resulting in the entire amount given to outside agencies, plus other critical funding, being eliminated.
“You came out and said you weren’t going to support the four budget items that we had discussed in three meetings prior if we were not going to raise the millage rate,” he said. “So we negotiated and instead of nobody getting anything, we said let’s raise the taxes so that there is some money available.”
“I don’t feel right taking money from our residents just to give to outside organizations that don’t have direct operations with the city,” Blake added. “That’s where we arrived at this. It was either nothing, none of the four items…or we reduce what we’re going to give by 30 percent.”
Commissioner Carlos Diaz supported Commissioner Blake’s point.
“If the millage rate would not have been increased, it would’ve been zero funding, a total of zero,” he said. “In order…to get funding for three items, we had to make a deal.”
“We said in order to get the 4.04 and have a fiscally responsible government for the following year, we raise the millage rate and obviously we had to pass the budget reducing the outside agencies (funding).”
Vice Mayor Cliff Merz concurred and went one step further, calling the mayor’s attempt to change opinions now “incorrect.”
“What was worked out was basically an arrangement to try to get as close to a balanced budget as necessary, to set the millage rate and come up with a plan,” the vice mayor said. “Coming back now and trying to make a change at this point and trying to take a stand one way or another and paint people as uncaring I think is totally incorrect.”
“When you make a stance, when you make a commitment you have to stick on it,” he added. “You can’t just move from one meeting to the next meeting. You have to take it as a package and you have to work on it together and try to do what’s best for the city.”
Before taking a vote, Commissioner Zodrow reiterated his position, which was to keep the millage the same and take money from the city’s reserve funds to pay for large expenditures.
“I personally don’t think it’s fiscally irresponsible to raise taxes in Safety Harbor…when you have a pot of money that’s almost $7 million dollars,” he stated. “I don’t know if there’s another municipality in Pinellas County that has that large of reserves in their funds.”
After Mayor Steingold reminded everyone to “just keep in mind, $27,000 is a drop in the bucket,” the commission approved the budget by a vote of 3-2, with Zodrow and Steingold voting against it.
- Commissioners Clash on Budget, Millage Issues
- Commission Discusses Raising Millage, Cutting Funding at Budget Workshop
- Annual Budget Workshop Tonight At Safety Harbor City Hall
Ed. Note: Commissioner Rick Blake owns the parent company of Safety Harbor Connect
I noticed that quote when I read your article and I admit the double negative is a bit awkward but what I meant to do was to respond to Commissioner Diaz’ comment and allegation that my proposal to not raise the millage would be fiscally irresponsible. My comment was supposed to say that “it is not fiscally irresponsible to not raise the millage based on the significant reserves.” I guess that makes it a triple negative but the bottom line is, in my opinion, keeping the current (last year) millage rate would have been fiscally responsible in light of the fact that without the millage rate hike the City would have to reach into the reserves for approximately $357,610. Although semantically this is deficit spending, the City budget provided for reserves of over $6.7 million dollars. That is only about 5% of the reserves and would have adequately paid for the full staff proposed budget, including the funds for the outside groups the Commission had previously agreed to fund. Deficit spending sounds bad but if you have a savings account of $6,700 and you want to pull out $357 for a purchase, I think that is fiscally responsible. That is just my opinion. Also note that the City also has one of or the most healthy reserves in Pinellas County. We should be proud of that fact.
Thank you for the response and the clarification, Commissioner Zodrow.
That’s an excellent catch, Glenn. I actually had written it as you stated above originally. But after listening to the audio numerous times, Commissioner Zodrow, to the best of my listening abilities, said it the way I wrote it, “fiscally irresponsible.” I believe he was trying to tie into something he said earlier, but I will reach out to him and ask to him to clarify his remark.
Thanks for the comment and for reading so closely!
Thanks, Jeff. I went back & listened to the audio after my post. I get the gist of what he was saying, but I agree that further clarification from Comm. Zodrow would be very helpful.
Jeff, is there a correction necessary in Comm. Zodrow’s quote? Shouldn’t it read “I personally don’t think it’s fiscally responsible to raise taxes in Safety Harbor…when you have a pot of money that’s almost $7 million dollars.”?
Jeff, thanks for keeping those of us who could not be at the meeting informed.
You are welcome, Paul, and thank you for your support of Safety Harbor Connect!
Well said, Gisela!