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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 16, 2009 8 years ago

Town tax rate falls .65%

by: Kurt Schultheis Senior Editor

The town’s tax rate will fall next month when the fiscal year 2009-10 budget begins Oct. 1.

Five of the seven members of the Longboat Key Town Commission recommended a millage rate of 1.4903 mills, down .65% from the town’s 1.5 millage rate, Monday, Sept. 14, at the commission’s regular meeting.

Total operating expenses in the new budget total $13,219,013, down $1,193,947, or 8.2%, from the current budget that expires at the end of the month.

The new budget, including capital spending, totals $14,276,263, down $283,410, or 1.95%, from the current fiscal year.

For Longboat Key taxpayers, if the proposed budget is adopted by the commission on second reading Tuesday, Sept. 29, the millage rate for Beach District A property owners — residents who live west of Gulf of Mexico Drive — will be 2.17, up from 2.1103 mills.

For Beach District B property owners — residents east of Gulf of Mexico Drive — next year’s total town millage rate will be 1.709 mills, up from 1.6963 mills.

One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation.

The millage rate of 1.4903 mills, according to Finance Director Tom Kelley, balances the budget and includes $57,000 for an additional code enforcement officer position.

The recommended millage rate, which was previously recommended at 1.4934 mills, was reduced prior to the meeting, Kelley said, because an employee at the Longboat Key Public Tennis Center chose to downgrade from full-time status to contract status and some revenue forecasts were adjusted.

Vice Mayor Robert Siekmann and Commissioners George Spoll, Gene Jaleski, Peter O’Connor and Jim Brown voted for the 1.4903 millage rate.

Mayor Lee Rothenberg, a strong proponent of raising the millage rate to bolster reserves, voted to amend the millage rate to 1.6 mills, higher than the town’s current tax rate of 1.5 mills.

“The shortfall next year (fiscal year 2010-11) is expected to be $1 million,” said Rothenberg, who urged his fellow commissioners to raise the millage rate to gain an additional $500,000.

But Commissioner Hal Lenobel was the only other commissioner who agreed with Rothenberg’s amendment.

The move means the tax rate will most likely be lowered one year after rising for the first time in eight years. The tax rate was previously lowered seven consecutive fiscal years before climbing 6.7% last year.

And, the commission decided not to fill the code-enforcement officer position — for now. If the commission decides not to fill the position, the money will be added to the town’s fund balance.

“I think it’s wrong to be adding a job when we are eliminating jobs,” said Siekmann, referring to a police officer position that was not filled and layoffs in the building department.

The commission also agreed to reduce its emergency red-tide fund from $100,000 to $50,000 and lowered its commission contingency fund from $400,000 to $250,000. Neither change, however, affects the budget numbers proposed.

In July, Town Manager Bruce St. Denis urged the commission to adopt a maximum millage rate of 1.675 mills, which would have generated the same amount of tax revenues as last year.

But five of the seven commissioners rejected St. Denis’ suggestion and a maximum millage rate of 1.6 mills was set Monday, July 6.

But several of the commissioners warned town staff all summer that they didn’t want to see the current tax rate of 1.5 mills raised at all.

The lower millage rate was possible, in part, because Kelley discovered a way to pay the town’s six street-department employees in the Public Works Department by using gas-tax monies that are located in the town’s road and bridge fund.

By using the gas-tax money to pay those employees’ salaries instead of ad valorem revenues, Kelley erased $400,000 of a deficit that once stood at more than $500,000.

To further erase the shortfall, town administration worked this summer to produce early retirement options for employees that saved the town approximately $152,500, cut health-insurance costs by $85,000, cut workers’ compensation costs by $130,000 and eliminated $330,000 worth of employee cost-of-living and wage increases. Layoffs in the Planning, Zoning and Building Department also reduced expenses by $200,000.

The budget will be adopted on second reading at a special meeting at 5:01 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 29.

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