Whispers about raising taxes for Bradenton Beach homeowners — and staff pay raises — abounded as Bradenton Beach commissioners spent the first preliminary budget meeting June 11 discussing how little of the tax pie city residents see from their tax dollars.
Bradenton Beach Police Chief Sam Speciale presented a breakdown of city tax dollars compared to county tax dollars paid by city homeowners.
“This is an example of what the county pays and what we pay in the city,” said Speciale. “If you assess a value on a house worth $105,000, the taxable value is $55,000.”
Speciale said if people read the tax bill for that house, they would see $213 goes to the Manatee County Sheriff’s Office, $300 goes to West Manatee Fire Rescue, “and a Bradenton Beach resident is only paying $117 a year to the city.”
Speciale said he understands people don’t want to pay more taxes, “but we still have to look at the whole tax bill. People don’t understand how little we are paying. I did this to show that we don’t want to cut services, so if we do have to raise taxes, in the grand scheme of things, we are not paying an exorbitant amount of taxes in the city.”
Speciale said, as a citizen, he believes citizens wouldn’t mind paying a few extra dollars a year to maintain the high standard of city services Bradenton Beach residents expect.
The discussion then turned to the last time the Bradenton Beach Police Department received a new vehicle. Speciale said it was in 2006, “and it’s becoming undrivable.”
Vice Mayor Ed Straight said he’s not in favor of raising taxes to “go out and do some wild spending, but we do need to take a look at what’s going on down the road.”
Straight said the millage rate on a resident’s tax bill “is smaller than you think, and we lowered it last year.”
Commissioner Ric Gatehouse said it’s important for the city to think about the future and develop a five-year plan.
“This is part of the five-year plan, you set aside funds and allocate them toward ongoing maintenance as required,” said Gatehouse. “It may require increasing revenue streams.”
Mayor John Shaughnessy said he understands citizens’ concerns on higher taxes, but he doesn’t believe taxpayers know that the city is the smallest part of their tax bill.
“I talk to people who say their taxes have gone up,” he said. “Well, it’s not us. It’s the fire department who gets a raise every year. I’m not looking to go hog wild here. I’m not saying we are going to increase taxes, but I don’t think 25 bucks a year is going to kill anybody.”
Mayor pushes staff raise
Amidst the commissioner’s preliminary budget meeting at Bradenton Beach City Hall, Shaughnessy asked if there was any comments on a letter he submitted saying he would support a raise for city employees.
Commissioner Jan Vosburgh said she read it and she saw a few problems with a staff pay raise.
“I thought it was a good letter, but I just had a few problems with it,” said Vosburgh. “You said the employees haven’t had a raise in four or five years, and we did give them a raise for 5 percent last year.”
Shaughnessy clarified his thoughts by saying city employees did get a 5 percent raise last year, but did not have a raise the previous five years.
“We also took away their Christmas turkeys and hams, and also took away their incentive program for insurance,” he said.
Shaughnessy said the incentive program is money not used toward insurance is put into a fund that commissioners planned to use to include dental or optical insurance in the future for city employees.
“We took $50,000 of that and put it in the general fund,” he said.
Vosburgh said she believed the commissioners should do whatever is possible to make city employees happy, “but there’s no place in the private sector that pays all of the dependent’s insurance the way we do.”
Shaughnessy said if Bradenton Beach is the only place in the country that pays full dependent insurance, “I think we should be proud of that.”
Vosburgh said her commitment to the voters when she decided to run for office was to carefully watch their tax dollars.
“I’m very conservative, but I do think we should give them the turkeys and hams back. I don’t have a problem with that,” she said.
Straight said he has dealt with county budgets for many years.
“We always watch the budget as tight as we can, but have to figure out where we make sacrifices,” he said. “People want less taxes, but don’t want services cut. You are better off spending a little more money and keep your employees happy. In my opinion, it’s less expensive to keep your employees and avoid employee turnover.”
Shaughnessy said it’s important to watch the budget, but he also doesn’t want to lose employees.
“Look in the paper and you see the fire department getting a $4 raise, the county looking at giving their employees a raise, and I look at our infrastructure, too,” he said.
Shaughnessy cited several upcoming issues that the city would need to find money to get done that is outside of regular budget items.
“How do we replace that money? The auditor said we had a clean audit, but there is just one thing. We can’t keep taking money out of the emergency fund,” he said.
The June 11 meeting was a preliminary budget discussion and no future budget work sessions have yet been scheduled.