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$42.8M budget introduced, 2.28 millage rate set

By Staff | Sep 9, 2009

On Saturday, approximately 25 residents attended the city’s first of two scheduled public budget hearings at MacKenzie Hall, where local leaders unanimously approved a rolled-back millage rate of 2.2808 along with a total budget package of $42,867,000.

According to city finance director Sylvia Edwards, ad valorem revenues on Sanibel dropped from $10,579,884 in 2008-09 to $10,315,334 this year, a decrease of $264,550. Operating Uses, tentatively set at $29,421,345, jumped from last year’s adopted $28,671,684. However, Capital Uses have been reduced from $5,263,955 in 2008-09 to $2,917,385 in the proposed package.

“We still won’t know the final taxable value until after Oct. 1, but that will be after we’ve adopted our budget,” said Edwards, who also noted that 28 city contracts with vendors were successfully negotiated down.

The city’s 2009-10 budget is funded by a millage rate of 2.2808, which is .0599 mills – or 2.5 percent – less than the current rolled-back rate of 2.3407. The rolled-back rate is the rate that will result in the same amount of tax being collected as in the prior year, adjusted for new construction projects.

City attorney Ken Cuyler explained that once the millage rate is approved by council, it may be lowered before the final budget is adopted but it cannot be increased.

With the average residential property value on Sanibel at $581,047, the cost per taxpayer for all city services includes $1,325.25 for operating expenses, $165.95 for voted debt (sewer), $$32.60 for voted debt (land) and $68.10 for voted debt (Recreation Center).

Among the highlights of the proposed budget include:

A reduction in Charges For Services (i.e. general government, public safety, solid waste, culture/recreation) from $1,975,560 last year to $1,844,124 in 2009-10

A reduction in General Government expenses, from $4,477,381 to $4,246,565

A reduction in Public Safety expenses, from $4,625,749 to $4,522,290

A reduction in Debt Service expenses, from $1,358,709 to $1,220,044

In addition, Capital Project expenses will be reduced from $4,155,074 in 2008-09 to $1,587,109 in the upcoming year.

City staff salaries will remain nearly identical for the second consecutive year while the number of full time employees have been reduced, from 141 to 126.

There were a number of revenue reductions noted during Edwards’ PowerPoint presentation. Among them are a drop in License & Permit Revenues (from $1,420,941 to $1,369,385), Intergovernmental Revenues (from $3,213,616 to $1,028,984) and Miscellaneous Revenues (from $451,358 to $197,055).

“Since this budget was initially brought before City Council in July, we have been working with city staff significantly, so this is not the first time we’re seeing the budget,” said Mayor Mick Denham, who noted that Sanibel has successfully reduced nearly $14 million in debt over the past four years.

Resident Joe Bradshaw suggested that the council increase the millage rate to 2.66, calling the city’s current rate “a real bargain.” Fellow islander Doug Deitrich said that it was “absolutely critical” that the city budget enough funds for maintaining roadways, paths and infrastructure.

“In this day and age, with the reduction in property values, to see a reduced millage rate of 2.28 is commendable,” said councilman Marty Harrity. “I think we are seeing some great work by department heads and city staff with this budget. No stone remains unturned.”

Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane, who called the current economic conditions of the country “unbelievable,” said the city is not immune to the ills faced by others across America.

“What we’re trying to do is we’re trying to balance things,” Ruane said. “The biggest challenge that weighs on my mind at night is when are we going to see an end to this economic downturn? It’s just a challenging time, and we’ll just continue to work on that balance between now and the next (budget) meeting.”

The second and final public hearing on the budget will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 15 beginning at 5:01 p.m.

“We have to watch every penny… and I think we’ve done a good job in doing that,” Harrity added.