Library Sets TRIM Rate, Challenged on Meeting Notice

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At their July Board meeting the Directors of the Fort Myers Beach Library Board voted unanimously to set the 2017-2018 Truth in Millage (TRIM) tax rate at 0.3499, the same as last fiscal year. During Public Comment on agenda items, Leon Moyer objected to the lack of posting of the meeting agenda on the Library’s website, calling the meeting illegal.

Jeff Brown of Ashley Brown & Co. provided an audit summary to the board, pointing out that the Beach Library received an “unmodified, unqualified audit opinion – the highest rating you can get.”

Library Director Dr. Leroy Hommerding presented a proposed budget for 2017-2018 using a tax rate of 0.3499 after explaining that he’d attempted to craft a budget using the roll back rate of 0.3313, but was unable to accomplish that. The rollback rate is the tax rate at which the same amount of tax revenue would be received.

Three proposals were presented, using tax rates of 0.3499, 0.3588 and 0.3867. The only difference in budgets for the two higher rates was additional funds for the Catastrophe Fund, $45,000 additional at the 0.3588 level and $71,380 additional at the 0.3867 level.

The 0.3499 budget includes an increase of 6.22% in ad valorem taxes, with a total revenue increase of 1.82% to $1,388,841. Overall expenditures reflect the same increase and total. Capital Outlay would be down 0.65%; Library Expenditures up 12%; Personnel up 6.7%; Plant & Equipment up 0.48%; Administrative Expenses down 0.75%.

While Mark “Tunes” LaFave urged the board to increase the tax rate to the 0.3867 rate, a 16.72% increase, the rest of the board didn’t agree. LaFave argued that the district is allowed to tax at 1 mil and they are 65% below that and should look 40-50 years ahead and save as much as possible in the Catastrophe Fund as soon as possible.

Rick Sebastian pointed out that taxpayers would only focus on the 16.72% increase in library taxes and it would not be received well. He also pointed out that the library holds insurance to cover catastrophic losses in the near term. The Catastrophe Fund is the board’s effort to put aside enough funds to self-insure, estimated to be $5.6 million, according to Hommerding.

Ed Scott suggested the board consider a tax rate of 0.3498, while George Ballantyne objected to LaFave’s suggestion of raising the tax rate. “If I saw that number in the paper, I’d be very angry. There’s no justification for it.”

Board Treasurer Miffie Greer agreed with Ballantyne, noting that the library is functioning well now with a “very profitable budget.” “To me it’s a matter of good faith. If we had to cut back services, that’s one thing, but we’re not.”

Board Chair Sallie Seabury said she liked Scott’s suggestion of 0.3498, adding that while putting aside money in the Catastrophe Fund was a good idea, it did not need to be done in “fast forward.”

After lengthy discussion the board voted 7-0 to adopt 0.3499 as the Library TRIM rate.

During the Director’s report, Hommerding announced that the 8,000-piece puzzle of the Sistine Chapel ceiling had been completed on Monday, July 24th. Part of the puzzle was first set up at the end of December 2016, with the full puzzle available in mid-January 2017. Just 9 pieces are missing. The puzzle company will replace those 9 pieces, after which the puzzle will be preserved, framed and hung on the Library’s second floor.

Library usage was up this summer compared to last: 9.6% in July and 3.5% in June.

During closing Public Comment Charlie Whitehead, President of the Beach Area Civic Association, concurred with the earlier public comment that the board’s meeting agenda was not online and should be. He also asked for the current balance in the reserves as that information is not readily available to the public. Whitehead also pointed out that the Property Appraiser for Lee County, Ken Wilkinson, has said, and Whitehead agrees, that unless you adopt the roll back rate, you are increasing taxes. “Holding the line is adopting the roll back rate.”

Current reserve totals according to materials provided to board members at the meeting are as follows: Equipment/Building Replacement $1,345,019; Total Solar $985,000 and Catastrophe Fund $1,230,000.

According to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Florida Special District Handbook, all special districts are required to post their meeting schedule, plus the agenda and any meeting materials available in electronic format at least seven days prior to a meeting. (F.S. 189.069 2(a) 16)

The Library Board does not meet in August. Their first Public Budget Hearing is scheduled for Monday, September 11 at 5:15pm at the library. The tentative date for the Final Budget Hearing is Tuesday September 26 at 5:30pm, prior to their regular board meeting at 6:30pm in the 3rd floor Community Room at the Beach Library at 2755 Estero Blvd, Fort Myers Beach. Check for the proposed budget on their website at fmb.lib.fl.us.

 

Missy Layfield