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Date of Issue: July 27, 2006

Anna Maria commission-mayor rift over budget

The growing tension between Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn and city commissioners over the proposed 2006-07 budget spilled over into a war of words last week at the July 18 budget workshop as the mayor accused the commission of "wasting" staff time and appearing bent on "slashing" many needed and long overdue projects.

Commissioners Dale Woodland and Duke Miller said they were intent on getting the city's reserve fund to 35 percent of the budget, while the mayor's proposed budget of $2.373 million calls for a reserve fund of 27.7 percent.

Woodland was adamant that the city reach a 35 percent reserve fund as that's the minimum recommended by Ed Leonard, the city's auditor. Woodland would prefer the reserves be higher, but he's not willing to approve any budget with a reserve fund under 35 percent.

The commission needs to do some "serious slashing," maintained Woodland, while Miller said it should be "sword-cutting."

"That means we either have to cut the budget or increase the milage rate," added Miller, "but 35 percent has to be the minimum."

SueLynn has proposed a 2.0 millage rate — the same as last year — for the upcoming budget, with revenues and spending increasing by about $260,000. The 2005-06 budget has a current reserve fund of 30.8 percent.

Woodland suggested the commission could easily cut $50,000 by eliminating such projects as replacing sidewalks and beach access walkovers.

Other suggested cuts could come from recommended staff pay increases and training, lowering projected spending in this year's budget or estimated spending in the proposed budget, or eliminating some suggested equipment purchases from the 2006-07 proposed budget.

Getting the reserve fund to 35 percent of the budget would actually lower spending in the 2006-07 budget by some $30,000 compared with the 2005-06 budget, Woodland observed.

Commission Chairperson John Quam suggested the staff revise projected spending in the budget, and noted that Bradenton Beach has a reserve fund of some $2 million, compared to Anna Maria's proposed $681,000 fund.

But that's not comparing apples to apples, said the mayor. Bradenton Beach is not Anna Maria.

Bradenton Beach has considerably greater revenues because it has fewer homesteaded properties, a stormwater improvement tax, a vast number of condominiums that can be taxed at maximum value, and has had the maximum 5.9 percent communications tax for several years. Anna Maria just went to the maximum communications tax this year. Bradenton Beach also has a 2.4 milage rate compared with Anna Maria's 2.0 rate, she noted.

The mayor was irate that the commission was considering massive budget cuts after she and the staff had spent an inordinate amount of time preparing the budget.

"I hope this commission has this discussion [next year] before the staff spends hours and hours of work, then we get to the point where you are now cutting the budget considerably. If I had known in advance, we would have brought you a different budget."

She said she was glad that the two candidates for mayor in the November election were present as they both could see what they will face if elected.

"Staff time appears wasted and it's the same every year. If I was in office next year, I would turn [preparation of] the budget over to the commission. It's always cut and slash."

Commissioners did remove $60,000 from the proposed budget, eliminating a permit for channel dredging, and lowering requested amounts for the emergency disaster fund and the contingency fund.

Commissioner Linda Cramer suggested the mayor consider what the milage rate would have to be to meet the proposed budget, but there was no consensus from the other three commissioners. The mayor said she would only present that figure if asked by the commission. Commissioner Chris Tollette was absent from the worksession.

But based upon the Manatee County Tax Appraiser's figure of $783 million of taxable property in Anna Maria, the city would have to raise its millage rate to approximately 2.2 mils to gain another $200,000 in revenue, achieve the commission's stated goal of a 35 percent reserve fund and not cut the proposed budget further.

One mil is equal to $1 per $1,000 of taxable value. A .2 increase in the millage rate in Anna Maria would amount to just 20 cents per $1,000 of taxable value. A homeowner with a home valued at $525,000 for tax purposes and a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay an additional $100 in ad valorem city taxes this year if the commission raised the millage rate to 2.2.

The commission was scheduled to hold its final budget workshop July 25 and set the tentative millage rate for the 2006-07 budget. The public hearings on the budget will be held in September, Quam has indicated.