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Date of Issue: September 16, 2009

Budget, tax rate pass first reading

Holmes Beach city commissioners, with one dissenting vote and some citizen complaints, tentatively approved a $7.8 million budget for fiscal 2009-10 and a 1.7549 millage rate.

This year’s budget is $8,127,723.

A public hearing on the spending plan took place Sept. 9 at city hall, 5801 Marina Drive, after which the commission approved the first reading of an ordinance setting the millage rate for 2010 at 1.7549 mills per $1,000 assessment and the first reading of an ordinance for a $7,865,490 balanced budget for 2009-10.

The proposed millage rate is higher than the 1.5989 rate levied this year, but lower than rates from 1997-2007.

“The proposed millage rate is not an increase or a decrease over the present rollback rate,” said city treasurer Rick Ashley. “It is the rollback rate.”

Introducing the public hearing, Mayor Rich Bohnenberger reviewed the budget planning process, which involves the mayor, treasurer, department heads and commissioners.

He said the budget was drafted based on the rollback rate — the tax rate that will bring in the same amount of tax revenue as the previous year — and, in an effort to balance the budget, the city eliminated step and cost-of-living pay raises, reduced the contingency fund and chose not to fill a vacancy in the public works department.

“I want to thank the city treasurer and our employees for their efforts in keeping costs down,” Bohnenberger said.

During the hearing, several citizens politely stressed that Anna Maria Island might be paradise, but Holmes Beach is no haven from the nation’s economic woes.

Seeking some tax relief, they zeroed on several elements of the proposed budget — rising health insurance costs, energy costs, vehicle maintenance and a $500 pay increase for staff.

Beverly Moore of the 200 block of South Harbor Drive pointed out Manatee County’s 12.1 percent unemployment rate, the continuing scourge of foreclosures and the lack of cost-of-living adjustments in Social Security for recipients.

“The budget,” she said, “must reflect a sobering reality.… And I think it does not. Most governments are not giving raises.… And many governments are cutting salaries.… How can you justify wage increases?”

Andy Sheridan of the 600 block of Key Royale Drive, a candidate in the Nov. 3 city commission race, suggested the city consider eliminating some vehicles, which cost the city money for maintenance, fuel and insurance.

“I don’t see that we’re doing all we can to trim this budget,” he said, suggesting that the city consider trimming costs by 5-15 percent.

John Molyneux of the 200 block of 73rd Street said, “I have not come here to criticize the budget.… It looks awful good.”

Instead, Molyneux suggested that, with concerns about money in Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria, now is the time to revisit a consolidation of services.

“Consolidation can save money. It can increase efficiencies. Have you discussed it recently? Those opportunities that might save us all money?” he said.

After listening to citizens, Ashley responded to comments and questions.

The $500 stipend per employee, he said, amounts “in round numbers to $25,000” or $9.62 per week per employee.

He added, “Those employees who would have normally gotten a raise for longevity haven’t gotten that this year.”

He said the city seeks bids for the lowest rate on health insurance each year, has taken steps to improve energy efficiency and recycles its police vehicles for other departments.

“It’s been three years since we’ve bought a new vehicle for public works,” Ashley said.

At the dais, Commissioners Pat Geyer, Sandy Haas-Martens, John Monetti and Pat Morton said the citizens they have heard from in recent weeks offered praise for city services and did not object to the proposed budget.

Commissioner David Zaccagnino, who voted against both ordinances, said he was hearing otherwise in the aisles of Publix, and he pointed out cost-cutting efforts in other cities.

“I think we are top-heavy,” Zaccagnino said of the city staff. He questioned the size of the police department staff and the $500 stipend for employees.

“I don’t know any other city that’s giving pay raises,” Zaccagnino said. “This is just not the time.… It’s projecting the wrong kind of thing to our citizens.”

Morton responded, defending the size of the police staff and emphasizing that with the influx of tourists to Holmes Beach, the department sometimes is responsible for serving and protecting hundreds of thousands of people.

The final hearing on the budget will take place at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22, at city hall, where citizens can also find copies of the spending plan that will take effect Oct. 1.

The revenue portion of the budget provides for $903,933 from state sources, $3,364,500 from local sources and identifies $3,597,057 in carryovers and reserves.

Declines are projected in most revenue categories, including money from gas, sales and alcoholic beverage taxes, construction permits and state revenue sharing.

On the expense side, the budget provides $100,990 for the mayor/commission operations, $655,993 for general government operations, $2,030,479 for the police department, $1,964,364 for public works operations, $145,027 for code enforcement and $391,000 for stormwater utility projects.

  For each of the expense categories, the budget shows increases in FICA contributions. The budget also shows increased costs for insurance and most salaries.

Overall, expenses increased $11,553 for the police department from this year to fiscal 2009-10 and $2,731 for the code enforcement department. Stormwater utility funds were increased to allow the city to tackle drainage for three basins and engineering work for two other basin projects in the next year.

But total expenses are down for several departments compared to this year. The mayor/commission budget decreased by $60,755 and the general government budget dropped by $2,291. The public works department budget went down $253,471, with the biggest change in improvements funded with the local option gas tax.