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BB sets tentative tax hike

By Mark Young, Islander Reporter

Bradenton Beach commissioners July 25 set a tentative millage increase, from 2.1359 to 2.3329, to overcome a $145,479 budget deficit.

A millage is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value on a home. The city tax increase would amount to about $85 a year for a home valued at $450,000.

Commissioner Ric Gatehouse offered three possibilities to overcome the 2012-13 budget deficit, which was initially thought to be $117,000, later thought to be $104,000, and revealed at the July 25 city commission meeting to be $145,479.

Gatehouse’s proposals included a larger tax increase with no money taken from the city’s approximately $1 million reserve fund to overcome the deficit. A second option was a smaller tax raise and to take $50,000 out of the reserve funds.

After some debate, commissioners settled on the third option presented by Gatehouse, which is to split the difference on the tax hike and pay the shortfall from the reserve fund.

The tentative millage rate can be lowered by commissioners before voting on the final budget in September, but it cannot be raised.

“This is just a tentative discussion on setting the millage and the key word is tentative,” said Mayor John Shaughnessy.

City clerk Nora Idso added that Bradenton Beach receives about 10 percent of a homeowner’s overall property taxes.

“Some people misunderstand when we talk about Bradenton Beach taxes,” said Idso, who noted that most of what people see on their tax bill is for the county and other entities.

“That’s who gets the majority of the taxes,” she said.

Shaughnessy said the city could not control the most of people’s rising taxes.

“We aren’t to blame for what’s going on with the taxes here,” he said.

Gatehouse said where the money is going is fairly obvious with a drive around the county.

“Ninety percent of taxpayers’ property tax goes to various county agencies,” he said. “I noticed in the last month as I drive around the county the number of facilities that are either new or are being refurbished. That’s our tax dollars at work in the county. That part of the bill has been going up, while ours has remained stable or gone down over the years.”

Gatehouse said he doesn’t like the idea of raising taxes, but the city doesn’t have much choice when “we are having trouble finding a can of paint to paint the police department. We need to take care of the city.”

Commissioner Gay Breuler said she supports the 50-50 proposal submitted by Gatehouse.

“If you break it down, it’s about $7 a month,” she said. “That’s not a lot to pay to start addressing our infrastructure.”

Shaughnessy said he wants to protect the taxpayers, “but my main purpose is to take care of the city. By taking care of the city, I’m taking care of the taxpayers. I can’t let the city run down. If things work out better next year, then we can always reduce these taxes again.”

Gatehouse said the 50-50 proposal was the fairest option.

“We could probably cover the whole shortfall with reserves, but my problem with that is when the next emergency comes up, we don’t have the funds to cover it,” he said. “At the other end of the scale, I don’t want to put the whole tax burden on the city.”

Gatehouse said the city wouldn’t be in this position had a previous commission not spent $350,000 to purchase “useless” property on Gulf Drive.

The property purchase was the result of a settlement for a lawsuit in which the city sought to halt beachfront development on land designated preservation.

“When the public points fingers, I want to remind them why we are in this position,” he said. “We are in a deep hole and we are trying to dig our way out and do it responsibly.”

Vice Mayor Ed Straight said he believes the public wants the city to address infrastructure and continue providing quality services.

Idso said she doesn’t like to take money out of the city’s reserves, but sees the necessity to “go along with it for one year. Am I comfortable taking money out of the reserves every year? Absolutely not.”

Idso said the citizens of Bradenton Beach do not deserve to bear the full burden, so she would be comfortable using reserve funds to help offset the deficit.

“The citizens didn’t get us into this mess,” she said.

Breuler motioned to approve the millage rate increase with a stipulation that $75,000 would be released from the reserve fund to help offset the budget deficit.

Vosburgh seconded the motion, which passed 5-0.

The city will schedule two public hearings on the budget before voting to finalize it in September.

The 2012-13 budget calls for $2.421 million in expenses with an estimated more than $2.275 million in revenue, accounting for the more than $145,000 deficit.

The proposed millage increase will create an additional $75,000 in property tax revenue, with commissioners agreeing to take $75,000 from reserves to eliminate the deficit and balance the budget.

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