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Sarasota County Commission proposes 37-year low millage rate

With assessed value still rising, Sarasota County staff is directed to craft a budget based on a rate of 3.30 mils on residential and commercial property.

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Throughout the first two days of the three-day Sarasota County Commission fiscal year 2025 budget workshop last week, the proceedings remained ahead of the scheduled agenda of department heads stating their case for funding requests.

Not to be excluded from the accelerated pace was a preliminary discussion about the equally preliminary ad valorem millage rate, with commissioners ultimately instructing County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to craft a proposed budget based on a countywide rate of 3.30 mils, the lowest rate in 37 years.

The current fiscal year rate is 3.35 mils.

The Thursday millage discussion, originally scheduled for Friday, was requested by Commissioner Neil Rainford and supported by a consensus of the board.

The nearly four-decade low millage rate doesn’t necessarily mean the county won't be collecting less revenue. The 10% increase in assessed property value will more than offset the difference between the tax revenue of the current fiscal year. But it does mean Lewis and his staff must trim approximately $4.4 million from the requested budgets of departments that fall under the purview of the County Commission.

With a projected $25.1 million more in property tax revenue estimated for the coming fiscal year, the county will still net an additional $20.7 million over fiscal 2024. 

Funding for the state-mandated constitutional officers’ departments will remain as requested. Those include the Sheriff’s Office, Tax Collector, Clerk of Circuit Court, Supervisor of Elections and more.

“It wouldn't disappoint me if any of the constitutionals decided to help a little bit in this process and join us in our efforts,” said a wistful Commissioner Ron Cutsinger.

Not anticipating such collaboration, Lewis said he will huddle with department heads over the next several weeks as the commission foregoes, as it often does, the planned August workshop. The next time they formally see a proposed budget will be at the first of two scheduled September budget public hearings.

The countywide property tax revenues are projected at $283.3 million based on a preliminary valuation of $103.4 billion, a 9.86% increase over the actual value in fiscal year 2024.

Catching Lewis by surprise, he requested a 10-minute recess to speak with the county’s Office of Financial Management staff to assess whether a $4.4 million reduction in funding requests is feasible.

Reaching an affirmative conclusion, Lewis confirmed with commissioners that the budget can be structured to match the desired millage rate pending the report on the final property assessment. That is due at the beginning of next month, providing the first set of real data to match up with spending requests.

“Obviously that could change on July 1, and we'll be doing it out of the BCC departments,” Lewis said. “That’s kind of where we interrupted the conversation because we were trying to run some numbers.”

“That's fine and the numbers are obviously important,” said Commission Chairman Mike Moran. “That’s what we're doing here for the last three (actually two) days.”

General Fund Budgetary Cost Summary

FY2024FY2025 PrelimDifferenceChange
Constitutional$246,088,116 $265,255,570 $19,167,454 7.8%
BCC Depts.$184,674,211$200,227,303 $16,225,148 8.8%

Prior to the $4.4 million in cuts, the proposed total general fund budget for fiscal year 2025 was $465.9 million, an 8.2% increase, or $35.4 million, over fiscal year 2024. That includes $200.6 million in County Commission-controlled departments and $265.3 million for constitutional officers and other agencies.

As is typically the case, the budget increase year-over-year is rooted in personnel expenses and new hires to keep pace with service demands of a growing population.

At 43.03 new full-time equivalents, employment for constitutional offices will increase 3.1% over last year, led by the Sheriff’s Office with 39, for a total of 1,447.5. Meanwhile, BCC-controlled department FTEs are proposed to grow by 59.90, or 2.4%, for a total of 2,541.

Moran suggested staff first look at the transit department, which at a requested $29.3 million is the most among the BCC-controlled budgets; followed by Parks, Recreation, and Natural Resources at $24.6 million.

Commissioner Joe Neunder said the county should be budget conscious, just as households must do in the current economic climate.

“I don't think it's a secret that we are experiencing very high inflation throughout our country at the moment,” he said. “The private sector, families, we're all tightening our belts. It's just an unfortunate circumstance, perhaps beyond our control coming more from national level. 

"The academic exercise of going back to getting us at a place where we can say we are at an all-time low in my mind is what my constituents in my district are telling me.”



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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