Higher Tax Rates in our Future

On Monday, the county commission voted 4-3 to set the maximum millage at 4.8751, which would be a 2.6% increase over 2011. Maximum millage is the number that may not be exceeded when public hearings on the budget resume on September 13.

Following back-to-back increases totaling over 25% in the last 2 years, the commissioners had directed staff in February to create a budget that did not include a tax increase. This would have resulted in $12M less tax revenue collected because of still declining property values, but was offset by cost savings of $25M from reform of the Florida Retirement System (FRS) by the legislature. Other factors however, including reduced interest income and fund balance issues, resulted in a shortfall estimated at $40M and led to a proposal of cuts to popular programs.

Commissioner Aaronson, who is known for ongoing support for raising taxes on others to pay for services in his district, assured us that “it is only a starting point”.

Like Groundhog Day (the movie), the budget discussion plays out in a similar fashion year after year. A low or minimal rate increase is presented, combined with cuts sure to bring out the supporters (Palm Tran Connection, Nature Centers, Financially Assisted Agencies). A “reasonable alternative” that raises tax rates “just a little” for “pennies a day” is offered by Administrator Weisman, and after several hours of public comment, mostly by beneficiaries of those programs, the commissioners vote in July to set the “maximum millage” to the larger figure. Then, in September, after 8 weeks of “trying” to find additional savings, the commissioners decide they have no choice but to adopt the maximum as the final tax rate. Then the cycle begins again. Any guess as to how this will end this year?

To their credit, Commissioners Marcus, Abrams and Burdick voted against the higher tax rate. Paulette Burdick, in her first budget season as a commissioner, attempted to actually set priorities – facing down PBSO CIO George Forman over further cuts to the Sheriff’s budget, yet supporting continued funding for the financially assisted agencies.

Accepting the higher rate were commissioners Aaronson (no surprise), Taylor (who didn’t think 2.6% was significant), and Santamaria. None of these were surprises as they had made no moves toward the lower rate in the June workshop.

The more curious vote was by Shelley Vana, who at first seemed to be seeking additional savings (efficiency, etc) to prevent the tax hike, but voted for it anyway. Like Aaronson, she said it was a starting point and they can “try” to find additional savings before the September sessions. Actions speak louder than words commissioner. Don’t expect any credit for rhetoric.

From a TAB perspective, those of us who spoke against the tax hike were outnumbered by those seeking program dollars. While it is difficult to get working people to attend a morning meeting, we hope those of you who did not attend were able to send email or other communication to let your voice be heard.

Those who did speak for the lower tax rate, included Jack Borland, Francisco Rodriguez, Mel Grossman, Pam Wohlschlegel, Carol Hurst, Victoria Thiel, Dionna Hall, and Fred and Iris Scheibl.

For the next 8 weeks, TAB will be refining the argument against the higher rate and attempting to increase citizen awareness and involvement in the budget process.


One Response to “Higher Tax Rates in our Future”
  1. Jim says:

    I am on both sides of the fence on county issues as I am a government employee and have a business on the side. As a taypayer the county budget has gone wild and out of control. Salaries and benefits have escalated way above the private sectors. Government jobs always paid less then private sectors but you received a pension, job security and other perks. Now the government jobs are above the private sector. Everyone complained about having to give 3% towards their pension. Ask any private sector if they want to give 3% of their salary and get a pension? They will be standing inline. Let capitalism work. All the government employees and commissioners give you the scare tactics about services. I wouldn’t give up my government job for anything and I am happy to have it. So don’t let them scare us. Call their bluff. You don’t like your new contract, don’t let the door hit you in your buttocks on the way out. There won’t be one government walking out that door.

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