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EDITORIAL: Budget process needs public input

By Staff | Sep 1, 2010

It’s that time of year again. September, traditionally the slowest month on Sanibel, is the same month that our City Council rolls up their sleeves and gets down to business on the following year’s fiscal budget.

Next Saturday, Sept. 11 starting at 9 a.m., they’ll be at it again at MacKenzie Hall, debating which line items are most essential and which ones may need to be adjusted or eliminated altogether.

The five-member council is charged with going through the city’s Finance Department’s assessment of the revenues and expenditures for all of Sanibel, but the decisions that they will make next weekend — and during the final budget session, scheduled for 5:01 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 21 — shouldn’t be theirs alone.

They need you to help them decide exactly how your tax dollars are being spent.

They need you to tell them if their proposed millage rate of 2.3204 is an acceptable operating rate. Back in July, when the council introduced that rate, Mayor Kevin Ruane said that he hoped to lower the city’s millage to 2.1561.

"I’m of the opinion that since property values have gone down, people are looking for relief. Certainly, I think they’re entitled to it," Ruane said on July 20.

We agree. If Ruane — whose financial expertise has helped Sanibel with cutting excess from the past several city budgets — thinks this can be accomplished, then we think so, too.

Property values on the island have dropped by 6.77 from FY2010, according to the Finance Department’s proposed budget summary. Accepting a lower millage rate would provide some much-needed relief for local taxpayers.

Among the other highlights of the budget that should draw some attention next week is the reduction in debt service payments, reduced from $5,977,238 in FY2009 to $4,826,285 next year; the allocation of $100,000 from the beach parking fund to be applied towards the Lighthouse Restoration Project; the reduction in full-time city employees (which currently stands at 122, down from 142 two years ago); and the projected reductions in city revenues generated through Fine & Forfeitures (down 30.8 percent) and Intergovernmental Revenue (down 48.7 percent). Overall, governmental funds are anticipated to drop by 23.5 percent.

Public input is vital in the development of a budget, so we urge our readers to take an active role and attend the city’s special budget session on Sept. 11. Your voices are essential in helping keep this a community considered the best place to live, work and play.

— Reporter editorial