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Council lowers millage, maintains sewer rates

By Staff | Sep 15, 2010

During the city’s first public hearing to discuss the Fiscal Year 2010 budget, the council agreed to lower the proposed millage rate to 2.1561 — equal to last year’s approved rate — and kept Sanibel’s sewer rate identical to the current fee schedule, part of their proposed budget package totaling $44,059,108.

On Saturday, 14 residents attended the initial budget hearing at MacKenzie Hall, where they heard City Manager Judie Zimomra and Finance Director Sylvia Edwards introduce the draft budget to the four-member council, with Peter Pappas absent.

"At this time, staff is recommending City Council consider reducing the millage rate to 2.1561 from 2.3204, add an additional $100,000 to the Environmental Reserves and allocate the remaining to the ending fund balance to be utilized in subsequent years inasmuch as at this time, there is no eminent forecast for economic recovery," Zimomra read from the staff report.

In July, council’s introduced a millage rate of 2.3204. According to state law, the millage rate introduced by municipalities is the estimated rate proposed for adoption. That rate cannot be increased but may be lowered, which Mayor Kevin Ruane noted two months ago was one of his main goals for the upcoming fiscal year.

"The biggest problem we always have is developing a budget," said Ruane. "We have to live within our means and, in times like these, it’s very important to do that."

Zimomra also explained that the Finance Department was recommending making additional debt payments from the city’s cash-on-hand account, which would result in no increases in sewer rates for the upcoming year. 

"City Council has consistently provided clear direction to the staff regarding the budget: continue to maintain the quality of life for those who live, work and visit Sanibel as cost effectively as feasible," she added, noting that staff was able to achieve that goal through reducing fixed costs, accelerating debt reduction and protecting reserves.

"Unfortunately in these times, we have to make decisions that really aren’t popular," said Ruane. "It sometimes comes down to simple things, like people losing their jobs."

The city currently has 120 full-time employees drawing benefits, down from 142 full-time employees.

The proposed budget noted several cost-saving factors, including a reduction in health insurance costs by 2.2 percent through restructuring and retiming selected Capital Projects — including the repainting of City Hall and purchasing upgraded Police Department Computer Systems — which combined total $170,000.

In addition, the city received a new grant from the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service in the amount of $38,800 to offset costs for the Brazilian Pepper Eradication Program and $39,850 via a D.A.R.E. Grant.

"Council should be commended for the proactive status it takes with every issue that comes up," said Marty Harrity following the budget presentation. "What I’ve heard is we’ve lowered the millage rate, which is always a good thing. What I’ve heard is we’ve had a debt reduction, which is always a good thing."

Vice Mayor Mick Denham said that he would like to continue discussions on reducing Capital Project expenses, while Jim Jennings noted that reducing the millage rate to 2.1561 was "an amazing thing for any municipality."

Several residents, including John Harries and David Bath, weighed in on their impressions of the draft budget. Harries made a plea for residents who may be on fixed incomes, who may be impacted by delaying some expenditures. Bath inquired about the status of ongoing negotiations of the city employees’ pension fund, which he noted increased 51 percent from FY2009 to FY 2011.

"There’s not an area of the budget that I haven’t looked at and will continue to work with," added Ruane. "We’ll continue to do what is prudent and we’ll continue to do what I think is wise."

The final budget hearing will take place on Tuesday, Sept. 21 starting at 5:01 p.m. at MacKenzie Hall.