Holmes Beach 2.25 millage narrowly passes first hearing
Despite public outcry that the Holmes Beach City Commission is overtaxing residents by maintaining a 2.25 property tax millage rate, commissioners approved the first reading of the proposed budget and millage rate with a 3-2 vote.
Commission Chairman Rich Bohnenberger and Commissioner Don Maloney were opposed to keeping the 2.25 rate. City Treasurer Rick Ashley and Mayor Carol Whitmore previously presented a budget based on a 2.0 millage rate that they believed would adequately meet the needs of the city.
A mill is $1 for each $1,000 of property evaluation.
The millage rate is the same as it has been for the past few years. However, this year the rate amounts to an almost 20 percent increase over the rollback rate. According to Ashley, the rollback rate is the amount required to create the same amount of tax dollars collected last year. That rate would be 2.0 mills.
The 2.25 millage rate will generate an additional $376,000 in tax dollars from property owners for the upcoming year. This money has been budgeted for four new items.
The commission plans to spend $58,881 for an additional night patrolman for the Holmes Beach Police Department. Although Holmes Beach Police Chief Jay Romine did not formally request an additional officer, he confirmed that the city can always benefit from additional law enforcement.
"We work very hard to come up with a budget we can work with," Romine said.
The last time the police department had a staff increase, according to Romine, was in 1997 when a full-time marine officer was hired.
"We're being asked to do more than we were 10 years ago and we work around the clock every day," Romine said. "I won't say I don't need an extra cop. If someone is breaking into your home at 3 a.m., you won't be questioning why you pay $70 more in taxes. It never hurts to have an extra set of eyes on the job."
The budget also calls for $185,340 of the additional taxes to be placed into a reserve fund for interim short-term drainage improvements, $17,000 for landscape maintenance at city hall, and $1,400 to supplement Anna Maria Elementary School's funding.
Although in favor of giving funds to AME and improving the city's stormwater maintenance, Maloney said he can only "vote for line-item spending that has been identified as needed now, not just because we can make such funds available by holding on to that 2.25 rate."
The most important item, according to Maloney, is stormwater maintenance. "After doing some homework, I find that without that 19.96 percent increase, we already have $350,000 in the 2.0 mill budget for stormwater projects." Maloney said. "Another $200,000 is in our current 'capital reserve fund,' plus another $161,000 from our new stormwater fee.
"Together that provides us with $711,000 that is available now with no increase from 2.0 to 2.25 mills. Using those funds will more than cancel out any current need for the $185,349 that would come from a 2.25 rate."
Resident Joan Perry spoke against the 2.25 rate, warning the commission that its "windfall" falls on the backs of citizens trying to live within their own budget constraints.
Jack Moss told the commission in the past two years members of his condominium association - those who are not homesteaded - have seen their tax assessment increase 60 percent. "Our residents are here four months out of the year," Moss said. "You're living in the lap of luxury off our backs."
Commissioner Roger Lutz told the dissatisfied residents that he understood their concern, but the city only receives a mere $70 "more or less" of the property taxes and the other 90 percent has nothing to do with the city.
In addition, Lutz noted that the city has nothing to do with what the county appraiser's office says an Island property is worth.
Lutz defended the budget for city grounds maintenance, saying that keeping city property looking good makes everyone's property worth more. "It may be a burden on taxes, but I guess your kids will be millionaires."
The budget also includes $100,000 set aside in a Key Royale bridge fund. A separate reserve account is also proposed for the continuation of major drainage improvements in the amount of $350,000. With the newly adopted stormwater utility revenue, a total of $511,000 can be set aside for stormwater improvement projects.
The overall proposed budget is $7.6 million including the caryover and reserve amounts and the actual operating expense of the budget is $5.1 million.
The final public hearing for the budget will be at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 23.