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Date of Issue: May 17, 2007

Holmes Beach to 'rollback' 2007-08 budget

Holmes Beach officials are ready to "rollback" the city's budget whether or not such action is mandated by an upcoming special session of the Florida Legislature.

"We decided to proceed with a rollback budget," Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger announced last week.

Through the spring legislative session, Bohnenberger repeatedly expressed concern with the direction of state lawmakers on property tax reform.

Two months ago, the mayor instituted a hiring freeze as state lawmakers and the governor debated how to respond to widespread complaints from residents and business owners about escalating taxes.

The regular session ended in early May without reform legislation going to the governor. Lawmakers will instead deal with the issue during a special session set to begin June 12 and continue through June 22.

Both Senate President Ken Pruitt and House Speaker Marco Rubio said they were confident lawmakers would reach an agreement to lower property taxes for Floridians.

Members of the a joint House-Senate committee will hold two meetings prior to the special session - a meeting May 21 to discuss options and a meeting June 4 to propose legislation.

"We're working towards a plan that focuses on the taxpayer, not the tax collector," said Dean Cannon, chair of the House Economic Expansion and Infrastructure Committee. "It's the taxpayers' money, not governments' and they deserve to keep more of it."

Bohnenberger and Holmes Beach treasurer Rick Ashley said they anticipate special session action will impact Holmes Beach's budget process and they are making preliminary plans to at least hold the line on the budget.

"Property owners should not expect a tax increase this year," Bohnenberger said.

"We feel that as we are putting together a budget to take to the commission, that it should be a rollback budget," said Ashley. "It really is something we ought to do. ... We hope to tighten the belt."

Ashley said Holmes Beach is in the preliminary stages of preparing a budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. Notices have already gone out to agencies that traditionally request money from the city, such as the Anna Maria Island Community Center, asking for fiscal 2007-08 requests.

"We will probably be taking a closer look at those this year and in future years," Ashley said, commenting on the property tax concerns. "We have cautioned these agencies."

Typically, the mayor presents a proposed budget to the city commission in mid-July and a maximum proposed millage rate is set by the end of the month.

In August, property owners then receive notices of the proposed rate, as well as details on public hearings for Holmes Beach and the other taxing authorities in the district.

The hearings follow, with a commission vote on the budget in September.

That timeline is tight, given that the special session will conclude just a month before the budget is due to be presented.

"They are cutting it close," Ashley said.

Various tax reform proposals have circulated in Tallahassee, including one to take property tax revenues to the 2001 level and another to the 2003 level.

Returning to the 2003 level would cost Holmes Beach $1.2 million, Ashley said.

"If they roll us back to 2003, we're not talking about tightening the belt," Ashley said. "We're talking about major cuts. There will be a lot of upset people."

Such cuts, he said, could mean reducing the scope of canal dredging and road-paving projects or funding for outside agencies.

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