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Millage rate lowered to 2.1561 in 2009-10

By Staff | Sep 16, 2009

During Tuesday evening’s final public budget hearing, island taxpayers received news that the previously proposed millage rate of 2.2808 – which had been unanimously approved during the City Council’s Sept. 5 session – will be reduced to 2.1561 in the final adopted budget, which totals $49,836,357.

Vice Mayor Kevin Ruane, who called himself and his fellow council members “stewards of the taxpayer’s money,” proposed the rolled back rate, which is equal to the current millage rate. To achieve his goal of keeping the millage identical to the 2008-09 operating rate, Ruane proposed reducing the city’s Reserve for Disasters by $4.5 million and lowering the amount set aside for the city’s Reserve for Environmental Initiatives by $1.2 million.

“My overall goal is to have a balance here,” he said following Finance Director Sylvia Edwards’ presentation of Sanibel’s proposed final budget. “We try to have a balance while developing long term goals. We’ve tightened our belt, to a degree, greater than we had anticipated.”

Ruane’s proposal dropped the city’s tax decrease from 2.56 percent to 7.89 percent, which will save local homeowners an additional $12 per $100,000 of assessed property valuation.

“This is a dividend going back to the taxpayers,” he added. “It’s their money.”

Mayor Mick Denham, prior to lending his support to Ruane’s rolled back millage proposal, said, “When we finalize our budget, we don’t stop looking at places we can save money throughout the year.

“As managers, our job is to run this thing as efficiently as we can,” noted Marty Harrity, who initially did not agree with Ruane’s assessment. “Personally, I would not feel comfortable in lowering it any lower than we’ve done.”

As part of the final adopted budget, city staff successfully reduced 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; General Government expenses, from $4,477,381 to $4,246,565; Public Safety expenses, from $4,625,749 to $4,522,290; and 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.

“I cannot thank you enough, from the bottom of my heart, for the raises you have not taken,” Ruane told Edwards and her Finance Department staff. “I’m comfortable where we are, and I’m comfortable where we’ve taken this budget.”

Fellow councilman Peter Pappas lent his support to the notion of further lowering the millage rate.

“The arguments that Kevin has made have to be described as compelling,” he said. “It’s the right thing to do.”

The council voted unanimously, 5-0, to adopt the amended millage rate and budget document.