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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Anna Maria adopts tentative budget, millage rate - barely

Anna Maria city commissioners at their Sept. 13 budget hearing adopted a tentative $2 million budget with a 2.1 millage rate for 2004-05, but not before they came dangerously close to an impasse.

With Commissioners Duke Miller and Linda Cramer absent, the three remaining commissioners had to unanimously approve any tentative budget or face some serious scrambling. They needed to approve a tentative budget and rate in time to hold a final budget hearing by the Sept. 30 deadline.

After more than three hours of debate on a budget with a 2.1 rate, Commissioner Dale Woodland said that if it takes three votes to get the budget passed, the commission has a problem.

"I'm opposed to a 2.1 rate and I'm not pleased with how we went through the budget. We need to make some hard choices. You're going to have to convince me of a 2.1 rate," he said.

Commission Chairman John Quam countered that he wouldn't approve a 2.0 millage rate because a number of items would then not be in the already "bare bones" budget. The 2.0 rate is currently in effect in the city, but a 2.1 rate would increase revenues by about $56,000, enough to fund one capital improvement project.

Commissioner Carol Ann Magill wondered why Woodland sat through more than three hours of discussions and never said a word.

"You knew we were discussing a 2.1 millage and I didn't hear you make any hard choices," said a wondering Magill. "You waited until now to say anything."

Woodland said he'd made his feelings known at the budget workshop. He would rather decrease reserves than increase the millage rate, but Magill and Quam wanted to keep reserves at 35 percent of the operating budget. Woodland also wanted a 35 percent reserve, but with a 2.0 rate.

The 2.1 rate would still transfer about $83,000 from reserves.

Reduce the Manatee County Sheriff's Office contract by eliminating one officer, suggested Woodland. That would save the city about $80,000, enough to fund a capital improvement project. "We've done with less staff in the past and we've done fine."

Quam was on the verge of considering a continuance of the meeting until more commissioners could attend, but Woodland said he'd vote for the 2.1 rate if the $56,000 additional revenue were placed in reserves, not the contingency fund. He also wanted more items cut from the budget at the final public hearing Sept. 27.

Magill and Quam agreed to that suggestion and also to eliminate one capital improvement project from the budget, reduce the contingency fund, not to look for funds for a new city hall roof in this budget cycle, and discuss other budget cuts, including eliminating one officer from the MCSO contract, on Sept. 27. Commissioners also cut a total of $16,100 from a variety of line items, and agreed to consider further line item cuts in several areas.

Woodland conceded and commissioners unanimously adopted a $2.036 million budget at a 2.1 millage rate with no money taken from reserves and just $14,000 in the contingency fund.

Magill asked Mayor SueLynn about a new roof for city hall and the mayor directed that question to the absent Cramer. "She's the one pushing it," the mayor replied, "but it has to be done within two years."

If the tentative 2.1 millage rate passes at the final budget hearing, it would add an additional 5 percent to a property owners tax bill. A house valued at $500,000 with a current tax bill of $1,000 would have just $50 added at the 2.1 rate.

The final budget hearing was scheduled for 6 p.m. Sept. 27 at the Island Baptist Church.