City property taxes are slated to go up next year, but not by as much as city officials had originally proposed. The new millage rate is a 23 percent increase over last year.
The city’s original proposal would have resulted in a 27 percent property tax increase. But commissioners approved a new number during their Wednesday meeting. Under the new 23 percent bump, city officials say the average home owner will pay an extra $7.08 each month. Budget and Policy Manager Heath Beach says that’s a tentative number, but it isn’t likely to grow.
“This is setting what’s called the maximum millage rate. The state wants us to, they by statute make it easier for us to reduce the number going forward,” Beach says.
But he says it’s nearly impossible to increase it. Meanwhile, commissioners are still hammering out the details of just what that money will pay for. While most of the commission voiced concerned during an earlier meeting about privacy and the cost of supporting a body camera program for police officers, Mayor Andrew Gillum is pushing to get funding for a matching grant back in the spending plan.
“The last minute items that have been added in, some big and some small, took out, bumped out, a very, very major piece of my wanting to support this budget and that was the transparency that will be offered and the additional protection that will be offered through the purchase of these body cameras. And the fact that we are facing a match, and those matches don’t last long, is enough incentive spend that money, half that money now, to bring down and leverage whatever federal money might be here to support that,” Gillum says.
One of the items in question is called “Governor’s Walk,” it’s part of a plan to connect the city’s downtown to the Governor’s Mansion. Gillum says that project wasn’t slated to get started for several years, but Commissioner Gil Ziffer says the board agreed during its planning retreat to move the time table up. A faster timeline would coincide with a state effort to create a park and museum in the lot adjoining the mansion. And Ziffer points out body cameras were not part of the original budget proposal from the chief of police.
“It got in there somehow since then and the reason is some of the things we have been talking about and that is there are still some concerns there are still some unanswered questions and while it does provide transparency, while it does provide some of the opportunities you suggested in case there’s an altercation or a situation where there are contradictory stories. The fact is, there are still too many unanswered questions,” Ziffer says.
Ziffer says he supports the public safety budget, but wants to support it as he says it was originally presented—without the body cameras.
The smaller tax increase will mean additional belt tightening. Part of that includes smaller merit increases for city employees. Departments will also be asked to reduce expenditures and look for vacant positions that can be cut.