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Date of Issue: May 12, 2010

Stoltzfus suggests $1 toll saves budget shortfall

Anna Maria Commissioner Harry Stoltzfus proposed installing a toll booth at the city’s entrance on Gulf Drive as a means of solving a possible deficit in the 2010-11 budget.

Speaking at the May 3 commission budget work session, Stoltzfus said the city could charge visitors $1 for each entry, but residents would get in free.

If 300,000 tourists visit Anna Maria each year as some people have suggested, that’s $300,000 the city would take in as revenue, he noted.

A visitor’s toll might reduce the number of tourists to the city, but that might not be such a bad thing, he indicated.

The budget deficit is resolved, Stoltzfus announced.

Stoltzfus also suggested a $50 annual fee for people who visit the city often, such as waiters at the Sandbar Restaurant. He said the waiters could easily make up the $50 in tips they make.

Mayor Fran Barford said the city is looking at a decrease in ad valorem tax revenues because of a corresponding reduction in property values from 2008 and 2009. She did not yet have specific numbers from the Manatee County Property Appraiser Office, but said previously the appraiser’s office has “unofficially” estimated there will be about $100,000 less revenue for the city this year.

The mayor suggested the city look at a cell tower on public property, particularly since cell towers no longer look like the one in Holmes Beach, but can be designed and built to blend with local scenery.

When the city had a cell tower study done by wireless communications consultant Ted Kreines in 2002, he indicated the city could receive $30,000-$100,000 a year in rental income.

Commissioners also discussed reducing expenses such as consultant fees, capital projects and staff salaries, but none of the commissioners favored cutting staff pay.

Barford said the commission has about 15 suggestions for increasing revenues or lowering costs, including raising the ad valorem tax rate, which is presently 1.7882 mils. One mil equals 1/1000 of a dollar, or one-tenth of a cent.

The city’s ad valorem tax rate was 2.0 from 2002 to 2007, but the city adopted the current rate with its 2007-08 budget after property valuations rose and revenues increased.

With a millage rate of 2.0, an Anna Maria home valued at $325,000 by the property appraiser and with a $25,000 homestead exemption, would have a $600-per-year city tax bill. At a millage of 1.7882, the same $325,000 home would owe city taxes of $536.46.

Only about 8 percent of the annual ad valorem tax an Anna Maria homeowner pays is returned to the city by the Manatee County Tax Collector in the form of revenues.

No date was set for the next work session, but Barford said one will be scheduled for July, when the commission begins its budget work in earnest.