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Longboat Key Monday, Aug. 2, 2021 2 months ago

Longboat's 2021 budget in shape as new plan comes together

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The Town Commission is set to review the budget on Sept. 13 and Sept. 27.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The town of Longboat Key is more than three-fourths of the way through its current fiscal year and leaders are pleased with how spending and income are matching up with the  soon-to-close 2021 fiscal year budget. 

During the July 30 Longboat Key Investment Advisory/Finance Committee meeting, Town Manager Tom Harmer briefed members on how the town had spent about $12,070,139.76 or 69.6% of its annual amended budget of $17,344,933.73 as of June 30. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.

“As a benchmark, we look at 75% as one of the ways we analyze the numbers and see what functions or areas of the general fund may be trending unusually low or usually high,” Harmer said.

The town has collected $13,894,314.78 or 94.5% of the revenues out of the $14,704,865 that is budgeted. A year ago, the town had collected 93.5%.

Harmer said the figures show the town is in a “really good spot.”

“All those things you just kind of budget for, and you need the money to be able to maintain your level of service, but you don’t know what the actual expenses will be,” Harmer said. “And so, the good thing is when we come with revenues a little bit higher and expenses a little bit lower, all that money then goes back into the fund for the commission then to reapply for priorities next year, etc.” 

The town’s year-to-year legal expenses are up 9% in the last year. However, the $232,519 spent (59%) in the legal costs during fiscal year 2021 is still less than the year-to-date measure of 75%.

The town hired outside law firms earlier this year for possible right-of-way acquisitions, the St. Regis hearings this fall and to evaluate the possibility of filing litigation after the June 2020 sewage break. However, the cost of the firms is charged based on category. 

“Some of it gets charged to the project,” Harmer said. “So like the wastewater leak, those legal fees would be charged to the utility. These were legal fees to the general fund.”

However, Harmer legal fees in the general fund include the town’s exploration of hiring an outside law firm to review the Gulfstream Avenue and U.S. 41 roundabout in Sarasota. The reason to hire outside counsel was to see if Longboat Key had any legal grounds to oppose the Florida Department of Transportation’s project, which town officials have said would be a detriment to smooth-flowing traffic on and off the barrier islands.

Longboat Key leaders have expressed their concerns for years about the Gulfstream-U.S. 41 project as construction got underway at the end of March.

The town also allocated $50,000 in the $240,000 contingency budget for red tide cleanup expenses. The town in 2018 spent nearly $60,000 on red tide, some of which was reimbursed.

On Friday, Harmer emailed his recommended budget for fiscal year 2022 to the Town Commission, which is on its regular two-month summer break.

Harmer said he meets each month with the town’s department heads and finance director Sue Smith to discuss the budget.

“(The town) builds it almost 18 months in advance,” Harmer said. “We’ve been in COVID and not knowing what the impacts are, and so we’ve had to guesstimate our revenues in an unusual period of time.”

In July, town commissioners set the maximum base millage rate of 2.1144, which is unchanged since fiscal year 2018 budget. Longboat Key’s 2021 certified property values rose 5.99%. The millage rate can still be reduced before final budget passage, but it cannot be raised.

The city of Sarasota, in comparison, set its millage to the so-called rollback rate, which generates the same revenue as the previous year even with rising taxable property values. 

“The pandemic and its impact on home and work life (have) caused people to reconsider where they live and Florida is experiencing an extraordinary influx of new residents,” Harmer wrote in his message. “This in combination with a tight real estate inventory has driven up market values.”

Town commissioners are set to hold the first reading of the fiscal year 2022 budget on Sept. 13. A second reading and adoption of the fiscal year 2022 budget is set for Sept. 27. Fiscal year 2022 starts on Oct. 1.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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