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City council caps tax rate for next year

By Staff | Jul 28, 2020

The Sanibel City Council reviewed the city’s draft budget for fiscal year 2020-2021 and approved a tentative operating millage rate of 1.8922 – the same as the current rate – at its monthly meeting.

On July 14, the council voted 5-0 on a resolution to advise the Lee County Property Appraiser of the proposed millage rate, along with a rolled-back rate of 1.8515 and a proposed aggregate millage rate of 2.1818, which includes rates of 0.0500 for land acquisition, 0.1045 for the recreation center and 0.1351 for the sewer system. Exclusive of the three debt-voted services, the proposed aggregate taxes levied are approximately $10.25 million.

The millage rate can be lowered, but not raised, during the upcoming budget process.

“That is the lowest overall tax rate that the city has levied since 2007,” Finance Director Steve Chaipel told the councilmembers as he provided an overview of the budget being proposed for next year.

He also pointed out the impact of the ongoing health crisis in the budget.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is obviously a very recurring theme,” Chaipel said.

Mayor Kevin Ruane worked with staff on the proposal.

“All the appropriate chances have been made,” he told the rest of the council, referring to possible revenue shortfalls within the budget and the reallocation of funds. “We have some flexibility.”

“We deferred an awful lot of projects to make this work for a two-year period,” Ruane added.

During discussion, the council and city staff agreed that the “concierge” level of service that the community has become accustomed to will look different because of the financial impact of the virus. However, the tighter budget intends to maintain the levels of health and safety that are expected.

“We also have made a conscious effort to keep some funds available for emergency repairs,” City Manager Judie Zimomra said of the proposal. “For example, to the Shared Use Path, et cetera.”

“I believe the next 24 months will be an uncomfortable budget but a necessary budget,” she added.

Vice Mayor Mick Denham questioned if upgrades to the police department were in the budget.

“I think that’s a very important thing to move forward with,” he said.

Zimomra explained that a needs study has been completed, but city council has not yet reviewed the results. In comparison, both the needs study and conceptual design are done for the Center 4 Life.

As part of the budget discussion, officials asked to bring back one city clerk personnel from the three who had been furloughed. The council voted 5-0 for Ruane to help staff find the funding to do so.

The council’s first budget hearing is scheduled for Sept. 14 at 5:01 p.m.


– City staff proposed a 25 percent increase in fees for the youth and after-school programs at the recreation center. Officials attributed the proposed hike to increased costs tied to COVID-19 safety requirements and a weak demand for the services observed so far through the summer programs.

After some discussion, Zimomra suggested that the city accept registrations at the current rate for the fall trimester to see the demand. She will then return before council with any suggested changes.

– The council voted 5-0 on the annual assessment to fund the collection and disposal of solid water, recyclables and horticultural waste for 2020-21, as well as set a public hearing to consider its adoption.

– The city council voted 5-0 for a solid waste rate structure for 2020-21, established solid waste, recyclables and horticulture waste rates for residential, commercial and multi-family properties, and approved a solid waste franchise fee and solid waste disposal surcharge.

During discussion, Zimomra pointed out some changes and upgrades to the city contract, including scheduled household hazardous waste collections for the island – a long-time request – plastic bags no longer to be included with horticulture waste, a countywide education program on solid waste and recyclables, and new fees assessed for contaminated loads that are brought to the landfill and rejected.

– The council voted 5-0 to direct the Sanibel Planning Commission to study the city’s seawall ordinances and language, including the use of new vinyl seawalls, for any recommended changes.

– Community Services Director Keith Williams provided an update on the Donax Rehabilitation Project. He reported that potentially defective basins were, in fact, unable to hold water after recent testing. The contractor is currently demolishing the defective basins, which will be reconstructed.

“We will not know the impact to the overall schedule of the project until this is done and they can remobilize for the repour of the basins. However, our earliest prediction is at least a 60-day delay,” he said. “But again, no cost issues relative to the city. This is all on the contractor’s responsibility.”