After two days of departmental budget presentations, the Sarasota City Commission approved a preliminary operating millage rate not to exceed 3.1728 by a 3-2 vote at a special meeting Wednesday afternoon.
That rate, while not final, would represent an 8.48% increase over last year’s rate of 2.9249. For a property with a taxable value of $200,000, the new rate would correlate with a $49.58 increase in property taxes.
The millage rate increase, along with just over $1 million from the city’s Revenue Stabilization Fund and $657,000 in one-time reallocations of money from Solid Waste, self-insurance funds and the gas tax, eliminated what had been a roughly $3.4 million budget deficit in the proposed budget presented by the city.
"I think this is a fairly balanced approach to this,” Commissioner Suzanne Atwell said. “We've been given some limited choices, but I think this balances it out pretty well."
Commissioner Paul Caragiulo and Mayor Shannon Snyder voted against the preliminary millage rate. Caragiulo said he believed there was still more room for the city to maneuver beyond tax increases.
“It’s not to say I won’t vote for it when it’s up,” Caragiulo said about the preliminary millage rate. “I didn’t vote for it today because I think we can still find some money in that budget somewhere.”
Snyder echoed those sentiments when Commissioner Susan Chapman said that several departments had been “cut to the bone” during a debate about the reallocation of a public information officer between departments. Snyder balked at the idea the city needed public relations specialists given its current financial state.
“If we're sitting here talking about adding spin doctors, the question isn't whether we're going to go broke, its how fast,” Snyder said.
Commissioners were presented with four options for setting the preliminary millage rate; two would have established a rate that represented a roughly 20% and 16% increase over last year without relying as heavily on the use of one-time funds. A third option would have kept the operating millage rate flat, but used over $3 million in one time funds that would impact the city’s ability to balance the budget next year.
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