The residents of the Fort Myers Beach Public Library District will pay a lower tax rate during the upcoming 2019-20 Fiscal Year for the third year in a row. Whether that translates into a smaller total budget is uncertain, pending the FMB Public Library Board’s final determination during its two September public budget hearings.
The Library Board met on Tuesday evening, July 23, in one of the Community Rooms, with Chair Sallie Seabury, Treasurer George Ballantyne and Secretary Jan Fleming joined by Erik LaFave, Rick Sebastian, and Ed Scott. The seventh seat remains vacant, as the Library Board still awaits Governor Ron DeSantis’ decision to replace Miffie Greer, who recently relocated from the Library District.
Library Director Cletus Poser and John Lukow, who recently received the promotion to Assistant Director, presented the 2019-20 draft budget of $1,285,075. They based this figure on a millage (tax) rate of 0.2774 that would be a decrease from the current figure of 0.3356 mills and even lower than the rollback rate of 0.3271, resulting in the library district taking in less tax revenue than last year. The current 0.3356 brings in $1,312,370 but because of increased Fort Myers Beach property values, that would be $1,416,927 for the next fiscal year. The proposed rate of 0.2774 would equate to $1,171,075 while the rollback total would be $1,380,941.
“If we stay with our current millage, our tax income would increase by roughly $100,000,” Lukow explained. “If you choose the rollback rate, we would still receive an additional $69,000. The amount we have in the draft budget would bring in approximately $140,000 less next Fiscal Year than in this one, from $1,312,370 down to $1,171,075.” The draft budget presented represents an overall reduction from $1,377,970 down to $1,285,075.
“I recommend that we approve the lower amount in the draft budget,” said Sebastian. “From the public relations standpoint, it show our community that we are implementing cost controls in the Library budget, as we do not want to lose a good public relations relationship with our community.” Chair Seabury reminded her fellow Library Board members that what they were deciding was the Truth In Millage (TRIM) tax rate. “We can still lower this in September but cannot raise it, though Cletus and John I am sure were careful to make sure we covered all the necessary components.”
Scott was opposed to setting the tax allocation at the lowest number. “We cannot raise it. I am fine with proceeding with the Library budget at the rollback rate, as that still gives us a cushion, and we can still lower that in September. Should we have a catastrophe or a significant issue or surprise, you can go through $50,000 quickly, so we should use the rollback figure as a starting point for our subsequent discussions.” Fleming agreed, stating, “The rollback figure is still less than the current taxation amount, so I would be good with that as the Motion.” “I feel the same as Ed and Jan,” agreed Ballantyne. Scott then made the motion for the Library Board to set the TRIM amount at 0.3271 mills.
The Good Guys
Sebastian noted, “If we really intend to lower the millage, we should consider an amount along the lines of 0.32 that shows our citizens that we are moving in the right direction, to lower their taxes. Maybe ‘John Q. Public’ will only notice an individual savings of nickels or pennies, but we are talking about possible swings from lowering the total tax by $140,000 to an increase of as much as $245,000. If we want to attain ‘Good Will’ through the Library budget, the lower the amount we adopt, the more the public at large will love it and view us as the good guys!”
Fleming disagreed, “The public will be happy with any decrease, as in their personal life and businesses, everything increases. By approving 0.3271 we are showing we are doing more with less, so-to-speak.” “I agree with the rollback,” encouraged LaFave. Scott stated that by endorsing the rollback rate, “we are telling everyone they are getting a good deal to start out with, and if we approve an even lower amount in September, they are getting a better deal!” The Library Board then unanimously approved the 2019-20 TRIM rate of 0.3271. This translates into taxes of $32.71 per $100,000 of taxable value of property in the library district.
Seabury noted the 2019-20 draft budget reduces Staff Salaries from $575,000 to $510,000, even though it includes a 3% Cost Of Living Adjustment, owing to payouts to the late Library Director Dr. Leroy Hommerding from his passing earlier this year.
The Library Board will hold their first Public Budget Hearing on Wednesday, September 11, to vote on the tax rate and budget at 5:15 p.m., with their final Public Budget Hearing on Tuesday, September 24 at 6 p.m., prior to its regular monthly Board meeting.
Before setting the TRIM rate, the Library Board received a presentation by Auditor Jeff Brown on its 2017-18 Fiscal Year audit. “The first thing to note is that we are able to issue a clean, unmodified, unqualified budget report on the FMB Public Library. Your records meet the acceptable practices of government standards, so this is the highest level of achievement that you can receive from an auditor.”
Poser stated that the turtle statue that received significant vandalism damage earlier this year will return to the Library grounds later this week, due to the renovation efforts of Council member Joanne Shamp, her husband Dan, and visiting grandson. Seabury reported that Governor DeSantis has yet to name a Library Board Member replacement for Greer, “as there are roughly 600 various statewide openings for the Governor to fill, and he has up to a year to do so!” The meeting adjourned at 7:46 p.m.
By Gary Mooney