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Holmes Beach wants to spend more, plans tax increase

By Jennifer Glenfield, Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach elected officials discussed ways for the city to get its cake and eat it, too, during the July 22 budget discussions.

“When we started the budget process, we were about $350,000 over budget. We had to cut to maintain the current millage. We are probably one of the lowest rates in the area,” said Holmes Beach Mayor Carmel Monti.

But millage is the percentage the city collects from the overall property values — maintaining the rate does not reflect a raise or drop in taxes.

The proposed budget for the city’s 2014-15 fiscal year totals $9,777,016, which amounts to $773,289 more revenue and spending than the current budget.

According to city treasurer Lori Hill, the bulk of the budget’s increases derive from:

• Adding a human resource analyst position.

• Designing a new city website.

• Purchasing Citizenserve software.

• Hiring an additional police officer.

• Buying two trucks for public works and one for code enforcement.

• Improving Grassy Point Preserve and stormwater systems.

• Increasing reserves.

The proposed budget also includes a 2 percent cost-of-living pay increase for employees and legal costs increased to $13,000 a month. Hill said the increase is due to commission meetings running longer than in the past and possible unforeseen litigation, as well as stormwater issues.

The budget includes a projected $93,000 increase for the additional police officer.

“I appreciate the extra officer. It helps with the extra overtime,” said Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer.

The chief said the force currently has 14 officers, and when officers are sick or go on vacation, it’s difficult to avoid overtime. There are two officers and a sergeant required on each of two day-shifts and two officers on each of two night-shifts.

Tokajer also requested the city enter into a vehicle leasing program, which he said is a less expensive way to replace police vehicles.

Hill did not include new police vehicles in the proposed budget, but Tokajer addressed the commission regarding the leasing program, coupled with a program allowing officers to take their vehicles home.

“It’s pay me now or pay me later. If we don’t replace the cars now, the maintenance fees will grow,” said Tokajer.

He told commissioners he requested $45,000 in funding assistance from Manatee County for the patrol of the county-maintained Kingfish Boat Ramp, as well as funding assistance from the school board for the Anna Maria Elementary School resource officer. Tokajer said if the assistance is granted, it would help offset the cost of new police vehicles.

“Get to work, chief. Go find some money,” said Commission Chair Judy Titsworth.

Responding to increased pressure from Florida Communities Trust, commissioners and the public, a reserve account is established in the new budget year for Grassy Point Preserve. In the proposed budget, $100,000 is allocated for improvements.

If the preserve money is not spent in one fiscal year, it will roll over into the next year’s budget.

Hill said the proposed budget is based on an ad valorem millage rate of 1.75, the same rate as the previous three years, amounting to a tax increase for taxpayers.

An ad valorem millage rate is the percentage of the taxable value of a property that the owner pays in annual property taxes.

With a millage rate of 1.75, a Holmes Beach homeowner with a house valued for tax purposes at $500,000 would pay $875 in property taxes for one year. If the city adopts the rollback rate of 1.6352, that property owner would pay $817.60.

The rollback rate is the percentage needed to produce the same amount of ad valorem tax revenue as the current fiscal year. According to state statutes, anything higher than the rollback rate is a tax increase.

According to Hill, a 1.75 rate for the next fiscal year will reflect an 8 percent increase in ad valorem revenue, or approximately $174,000.

Commissioner Jean Peelen said, “I don’t want to keep the millage rate the same. When I look at our history with the millage, the commission before us lowered the rate when the city was going into the toilet and the city suffered.

“I understand where we were in the past few years, keep it the same, which meant a slight increase of what people are paying, but why would we not reduce it as a clear good faith sign that we are understanding that money is tight for everyone?”

However, the remainder of the commission and mayor did not agree with Peelen.

“I don’t feel comfortable going to the rollback rate because the budget is $350,000 over. We have to cover expenses,” said Commissioner David Zaccagnino. “We passed 25 ordinances this year. We tell our staff to go out and do it, and then don’t give them the resources.”

Monti suggested the city find alternative routes to raise money. However, he agreed the millage rate should increase over the rollback rate. Monti suggested looking for funding from the county, or instituting paid parking as a revenue source.

“I can’t believe I’m the only one up here arguing for the city,” said Peelen.

The commission voted unanimously to set the maximum millage rate at 1.75. It can be lowered, but not raised at subsequent hearings.

The first public hearing for the proposed budget will be at 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 10, at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive.

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