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Rising revenues shrink city budget gap

At a budget workshop Monday evening, city staff said they wouldn’t recommend a millage rate increase to help eliminate a smaller-than-usual deficit for recent years.

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  • | 3:55 p.m. June 30, 2015
The city will continue to consider how to eliminate the general fund deficit during budget discussions next month.
The city will continue to consider how to eliminate the general fund deficit during budget discussions next month.
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During the past few years, as the city gets into the heart of budget season, commissioners and staff have searched for solutions for a multimillion-dollar general fund deficit.

At a meeting Monday, staff presented the City Commission with the preliminary budget for fiscal year 2015-16. Although the city is still facing a general fund deficit, the preliminary difference between revenues and expenditures is currently $252,497. That total represents a significant decrease from preliminary deficits ranging from $3 million to $6 million in FY 2013-15.

In years past, the city has raised taxes or borrowed from other funds to balance the general fund budget. This year, staff believes it can cover the existing budget gap with the use of its revenue stabilization fund, a reserve set up by the city during the recession to steel itself against declining revenues.

Those revenues are no longer in decline: Taxable property values are up 6.9% citywide, which would create a $1.2 million increase in general fund revenue with a level millage rate. The total property tax revenue is $27.3 million this year, the highest it’s been since 2009 and an increase from a low of $22.1 million in 2012.

The preliminary budget includes $58.8 million in general fund expenditures, a 3.3% increase over FY 2015. In addition to the increased cost of maintaining the current level of service, there is a total of $1.1 million in proposed new costs. The majority of that would be dedicated to staffing, as the city is proposing a total of 13 new positions at a cost of $645,186.

Sarasota Police Department expenses make up more than half of the city’s general fund expenditures. Including new spending, the proposed police budget is $30.6 million, an increase of just over $600,000 from last year. In addition to mandatory raises for certain positions, the SPD is requesting four new full-time employees, including an officer for the department’s homeless outreach team and a detective for its crimes against children unit.

The full preliminary budget presentation can be found on the city’s website. Next month, the city will go through additional budget workshops, eventually approving a budget and millage rate before the Oct. 1 opening of the new fiscal year.


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