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City Passes Budget With 13 Percent Property Tax Increase

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City of Tallahassee
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Tallahassee City Commissioners passed a $706-million budget Thursday that includes a 13-percent property tax increase.

The increase will help to pay for 18 new law enforcement employees. It also includes funds to help cover the city’s share of 15 additional police officers that will be hired through a grant. Raoul Lavin oversees the city’s budget. He says the COPS grant, which focuses on community policing, will give the city $1.8 million  to be spent over three years.

“We are required to keep those positions funded at 100 percent, the city, the fourth year. So the total amount that the city needs to put in over the four years is a little over $3.7 million. The grant covers about 33 percent of the positions over the four years,” Lavin says.

The city will pay about $1 million under the grant in the 2016. $755 of that will pay for equipment the new officers need. Commissioners learned about the grant just days before Thursday’s final budget vote and many, including Commissioner Scott Maddox expressed frustration about the situation. Maddox says he wishes the commission had known the city was applying for the grant and had budgeted for fewer officers.

“We could have not put 18 in the budget, we could have put two investigators in the budget, we could have put two investigators in the budget. If we got the COPS grant then we would have had the additional 15 paid for substantially in the match from the federal government. Since we did not do that, what we have now is we’re discussing, how many is that, 33 personnel, where we’ve jumped from the 18 to the 33 like we were talking about the 33 all along,” Maddox says.

Under the grant’s rules any law enforcement officers that had already been budgeted for cannot be replaced by those covered in the grant.

Meanwhile, members of the community urged the commission to consider a budget that includes no property tax increase. Many pointed out what they call “unnecessary” recent expenditures, like Cascades Park. But Mayor Andrew Gillum says finding places to cut isn’t that easy.

I think a lot of folks aren’t all the way clear around where their tax money is spent once it becomes within this government. We even heard comments tonight and I think they were sincere around expenses at Cascades Park, Gains Street and other places, not recognizing that those are different budgets, different collection methods that cannot be used for the operation of the general government,” Gilum says.

The 13 percent property tax increase is significantly smaller than the city’s initial 27 percent increase proposal. Officials say they reduced that spike by dropping plans for special projects, reducing temporary wages and putting off vehicle replacements.