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Date of Issue: August 04, 2005

Round peg won't go into square Anna Maria budget hole

Anna Maria city commissioners trying to balance the proposed 2005-06 budget at their July 26 workshop might have felt like they were trying to put the proverbial round peg in a square hole.

The commission wants to include $785,000 in capital improvement projects in the $2.7 million budget and develop a five-year plan for completing many long overdue capital improvement projects, but to meet that goal will take a 2.23 millage rate and some long-term financing that would require a line item for debt service in the budget. Commissioners weren't interested in both increasing taxes and putting the city into debt, but to hold the tax rate at the current 2.0 millage rate and borrow money for capital improvements they have to cut some $150,000 from the proposed budget.

Mayor SueLynn, however, cautioned commissioners that many equipment updates and city maintenance and repairs were long overdue, as are the capital improvement projects.

"Do we have to do it now?" she asked the commission. "No, but that's what the city has done for years. We say no to all these things." The city always puts off doing improvements and projects, but some day, the city will be in too deep a hole to climb out, and the costs will have risen significantly by then, she noted. "You can do these projects now, or pay more later."

Commissioners agreed that the city needed to start on capital improvements now and went over each line item in an effort to reduce the budget by $150,000 to meet its goal of a $2.7 million budget based upon a 2.0 millage rate and include a debt service payment.

By the time the meeting adjourned, however, they had only managed to find about $7,000 to cut from the budget after reviewing about half of the expense items. Every line item the commission considered reducing in the budget was defended as necessary by the mayor and city staff.

Another budget worksession was scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 2. The consensus among three of the four commissioners present was to establish the millage rate at 2.23 mills, then work to lower that figure. Once voted on by the commission, a tentative millage rate can be lowered during public hearings on the budget, but can't be raised.

Commissioner Dale Woodland, however, is adamantly opposed to both higher taxes and putting the city into debt for capital improvement projects.

Ad valorem tax revenues have increased by 20 percent already, said Woodland, and raising the millage rate to 2.23 would amount to a 30 percent increase in taxes.

"If we can't live with a 20 percent increase in tax revenues, then something's wrong," he said.

The commission was to set the tentative ad valorem tax rate at its July 28 regular meeting