Final Budget Hearing Sept 23rd
Before a nearly empty chamber, the Town Council of Fort Myers Beach held the first of two Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Hearings on Monday, September 9. Council took the initial step to increase the Town’s Ad Valorem Tax Rate from 0.87 to 0.95 mills in a split vote, before unanimously passing the preliminary $20,333,660 Town Budget to be in place from October 1, 2019 through September 30, 2020. Both votes forwarded final action to the second Budget Hearing on Monday, September 23, at 5:01 p.m. Council member Bruce Butcher was on an excused absence.
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt stated, “What you have here is after the Town’s Budget Workshop, with your feedback, to include items from your Add-On List in the proposed FY2020 Budget. This uses Property Valuation growth and carryover moneys to provide the current level of services at 0.87 millage, though you are discussing a higher rate to accumulate new capital for future initiatives.” The 0.87 millage would bring in an estimated $3,005,273 while the 0.95 figure would yield $3,281,620 based on 95 cents per $1,000 of property valuation.
Council member Joanne Shamp stated, “I do not support 0.95 mills and let me tell you why. We have a balanced budget at 0.87 mills, with a bigger reserve than proposed by the Florida League of Cities for a Town our size. I cannot support accumulating money for a new initiative that has not been designed or even identified yet. I hate to throw this on the next Town Council, but in reality that is where it belongs. I know you are disappointed and I too have big visions for a lot of areas, but I think it is premature to save money for what we may or may not identify in the next year. I could encourage the rollback rate of 0.8456 so in supporting 0.87, I am approving a tax increase, but I will not go higher than that.”
Pretty Nominal Amounts
Council member Rexann Hosafros, however, “I support going forward with accumulating money, as we have many projects we hope to accomplish, and not just the potential Bay Oaks replacement. I prefer this and not playing catch-up in future years. In a way, this is conservative, to have money in advance, so I support 0.95 mills.”
Vice Mayor Ray Murphy asked Finance Director Robert Lange the dollar difference between the two millages, with Lange replying, “$273,500. That is an average of $24-a-year to the average beach property holder, with an additional $40 on a $500,000 home and $140 on a $750,000 one.” Murphy replied, “Those are pretty nominal amounts.”
Mayor Anita Cereceda added, “Since I was first reelected in 2014, I talked every single year about raising the tax rate. Historically, the Town pays as we go, but we need to look at the long-term view. Until I leave this chair, it is not someone else’s job to enact this, so I would like to see us enact the 0.95 rate, as quite honestly, we need to start raising the bar ourselves. I absolutely understand your point of view, Joanne, and many people will feel that way, but it is my judgment that we move forward with the many projects we have on the books, to leave the next Council in a good position, and take this leap!” Council then approved forwarding the 0.95 mill Ad Valorem Tax increase to the September 23 Budget Hearing.
Following this, Council debated potential additions to the $20,333,660 Operating & Capital Budget Resolution, including a 2% employee allowance for additional health insurance coverage; potential new hires for stormwater and public information, possible Times Square security cameras and stormwater maintenance payment issues.
Shamp wanted confirmation that the Town can fund all these under the current 0.87 millage. The Finance Director stated that is the case, with the proposed additional 0.08 mills set aside for future capital improvement projects. Council then unanimously moved the $20,333,660 FY2020 Budget to its Final Budget Hearing on September 23rd.
By Gary Mooney