With a preliminary fiscal year 2023 budget of $1.45 billion, the Sarasota County Commission on Wednesday set the tentative countywide millage rate at 3.4561, a slight decrease of 0.0098 mills from fiscal 2022 due largely to a decrease in the voter-approved debt service millage to support the Legacy Trail Extension.
“Otherwise, the millage rate remained flat,” Kim Radtke, director of the Office of Financial Management told commissioners.
That doesn’t mean the county will be raking in less tax revenue, though.
Because of the spike in residential and commercial property values in 2022, property owners will be paying more in taxes. The Property Appraiser-certified final taxable value of all county properties increased from $70.2 billion last year to $82.5 billion, a gain of 17.6%.
That results in a projected increase in property tax revenue from $230.4 million last year to $267.9 million for the coming fiscal year.
Although the commission can approve a budget with a lower millage rate in September, it cannot increase the rate set on Wednesday.
During the County Commission’s two-day budget session earlier this month, multiple departments took the opportunity to parlay the anticipated additional revenue into increased personnel, either filling positions previously vacated because of the COVID-19 pandemic's economic impact or creating new jobs to facilitate the county’s population growth.
Leading the increase in new county jobs are Emergency Services at 26 and the Sheriff’s office at 19. Public Utilities has proposed adding 14.75 full-time equivalents, Human Resources 11.96 and Information Technology 11.
In all, county departments sought to increase headcount by 116.4 full-time equivalent positions, which includes both county departments and constitutional officers/appointed officials and boards.
Also on the table are merit-based pay hikes of up to 5.5% to 6% for non-collective bargaining employees, an effort County Administrator Jonathan Lewis told commissioners during the budget hearings is intended to help attract and retain employees in competition with the private sector as well as prevent flight to communities that offer a lower cost of housing.
“Am I correct that from fiscal year 2000 through an including fiscal year 2023, in that 24 years not only has our millage rate not gone up, it's gone down … and if they kept the millage rate at what it was for fiscal year 2000 we would have collected from everybody another billion dollars?” County Commission Chairman Al Maio asked Radtke.
Maio’s calculations confirmed by Radtke, commissioners unanimously approved the fiscal 2023 millage rate.