County Proposes $25.3M tax increase

After leveling off last year following 4 years of decline, property values seem to have turned a corner and have ticked up 3.7% this year, easing pressure on county and municipal budgets. As the county has cranked up the millage rate as the valuations fell, will they now start to decrease them? Apparently not.

The June budget package, to be discussed at the first hearing next Tuesday at 6:00pm, proposes an increase in the millage from 4.7815 to 4.8164. This would generate $624.9 million – $25.3M or 4.2% more than last years adopted tax of about $600M.

The additional funds are allocated about $19.5M to the Sheriff (see note below regarding Sheriff’s budget), and $7.3M to the countywide BCC departments. (note: these add up to $26.8M not $25.3M, but that is how it is described in the Weisman cover letter). Much of this will go to pay increases for employees (3% to county workers, 2% to PBSO in addition to their contracted longevity and step raises). The “personal services” (ie. employee) budget for the Sheriff increases by over 6%.

Many commission priorities were NOT addressed in the new spending, including $300K additional funding for the homeless resource center, $5M for road resurfacing, $2.7M for Palm Tran service enhancements and $547K for Youth Empowerment Centers. It will be interesting to see if a constituency emerges to fund these things and raise taxes even further.

Library and Fire/Rescue millage is expected to be unchanged.

We think that raising the millage this year in the face of improving valuations and economic conditions would be a mistake. Yes, there is pent-up demand for additional spending (isn’t that always true in government?), and some growth is justified, but flat millage would already provide some $20M in new revenue. Raising the millage now is a slap at the county property owners, many of whom are still struggling along with the economy. The incremental revenue to be had with the proposed hike is small – surely a way can be found to defer that much until next year and keep faith with the taxpayer.

Come to the meeting next Tuesday and let the commissioners hear what you think of this proposal. The special interests who want spending increases for their programs will be there. Don’t let them be the only voices.

The meeting will start at 6:00pm in the commission chambers, 301 N. Olive, 6th floor.

NOTE: The Sheriff requested a gross budget of $510.1 million or 8.2% ($38M) over the FY 2013 gross budget. The net ad valorem funded budget is up $19.5 million (4.8%). Subsequent to his budget submission, the proposed budget was revised to assume his capital request of $10.6 million will be financed in FY 2014. The estimated debt service has been included in the proposed budget.