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Date of Issue: September 16, 2009

Anna Maria budget passes first reading

It would seem that folks in Anna Maria understand difficult economic times and have no problem with the city dipping into its reserve fund to maintain its current property tax level.

No one from the public spoke for or against the proposed 2009-10 budget at the first public hearing Sept. 9, and the city commission unanimously approved the first reading with little comment.

The proposal calls for an operating budget of $2.15 million, an ad valorem millage rate of 1.7882 mils — the same rate as this year — and a lowering of the city’s reserves from 37 percent to 31 percent, according to city treasurer Diane Percycoe.

The reserve fund would drop to $655,690, Percycoe said.

“That’s if we take in all the projected revenues and spend only what we propose,” she said.

Mayor Fran Barford labeled the $2.15 million as a “bare bones” budget, a remark supported by the commission.

Although city revenues are projected to decline by 10.1 percent in 2009-10, commissioners agreed to transfer the shortfall from the reserve fund to maintain the 1.7882 millage rate.

After establishing the millage rate at 1.7882 at the hearing, the commission cannot increase that figure, but can lower the rate. At its July budget meeting, the commission had set a tentative millage rate of 1.9450.

The operating budget does not include the $705,000 the city will spend on Phase 2 of its master stormwater improvements project. Funding for that project comes from the city’s line of credit and an annual assessment paid by property owners. The assessment for the owner of a single-family structure is $45 per year.

Percycoe allocated $225,000 in the proposed budget for loan payments on the line of credit.

The stormwater drainage project is a matching grant from the Southwest Florida Water Management District. The city will be reimbursed 50 percent of what it spends on the project.

There was some good news in the budget.

Percycoe said the city received a $5,000 grant for a new ATV, and city businesses raised $8,000 as the city’s share of Island trolley operating expenses in 2009-10.

Commissioner Dale Woodland noted that developer Mike Coleman of Pine Avenue Restoration LLC had spearheaded the trolley fundraising and thanked Coleman for his efforts.

Despite the grant and the fundraising by businesses, the overall budget was not good news to commissioners.
That’s because they may have to consider another look at the reserve fund for the 2010-11 budget if revenues continue to decline at the present 10 percent annual rate.

City revenues have dipped 20 percent the past two years, forcing the commission to cut expenses, withdraw money from the reserve fund and hold off on any staff pay raises, while at the same time maintaining the property tax rate.

Taking money from the reserve fund did not appeal to Woodland, although he voted for the proposed budget. “It’s a serious situation when you go into reserves,” he said.

Unless the economy picks up, Woodland suggested that the city is facing a difficult choice next year.

Commissioners agreed to hold a preliminary budget meeting on April 10, 2010, to determine how revenues and expenses are faring in the 2009-10 budget and attempt to estimate revenues for 2010-11.

Percycoe said it’s going to be difficult to project the 2010-11 budget because there will not yet be revenue figures available from the state. However, the city will be able to make a “rough estimate” of revenues based upon the data the state can provide the city at that time, she indicated.

Commissioner Jo Ann Mattick agreed with meeting next April, three months before budget hearings begin.

“We have to start early and at least make an effort to see where our income and expenses will be next September. We won’t have all the information, but we can get an idea of our expected revenues and see what’s coming. We can start to consider difficult decisions for our budget,” she said.

The final public hearing for the 2009-10 budget is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, at Anna Maria City Hall, 10003 Gulf Drive.