Budget Push

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It’s mid-June, which means it’s push time for the Town’s budget. There’s been no mention of it in any recent council meeting, but just like clockwork, following their first June meeting, there’s a rush to get some numbers in front of council so they can make some decisions at their final June meeting. Council’s June 4 planning meeting included a review of the first seven months of the current budget year and a request for any special projects that council members would like included in next year’s budget; it was not exactly a comprehensive look at proposed 20-21 budget numbers.

The Town must provide the Lee County Property Appraiser with their TRIM tax rate and their first budget hearing date by August 4 so Truth in Millage notices can be mailed to property owners in late August. The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach traditionally takes the month of July off, so they have to make these decisions before their July break, which leaves just one scheduled council meeting on June 15.

TRIM is an acronym for Truth in Millage. This notice provides information on property value, this year’s mill (tax) rate, next year’s proposed mill rate (TRIM rate) and the roll back rate – the tax rate that would produce the same amount of taxes for the taxing district as the current year.

The TRIM rate can be lowered during September budget hearings, but the taxing district cannot approve a final tax rate any higher than the TRIM rate. So, setting the TRIM rate sets the ceiling. It would be prudent for our council members to have more than a vague idea of next year’s budget needs and revenues before setting that ceiling.

It’s easy to make the proclamation that all taxes are too high and should go down, but that’s just politics until you understand specifically what the revenues and budget needs are for THIS taxing district. You can’t do that until you take a deeper dive into the budget.

The tight schedule does not give council members a lot of time to peruse a budget that currently totals $20.6 million, especially as three council members are going through the town budget process for the first time.

The promise of an August budget review, long after the TRIM rate has been set does not respect council members’ responsibility for that budget.

The town’s budget-setting process could use some revision to make it a more thorough and open process.