BRADENTON -- The Bradenton City Council approved a tentative 8.5 percent millage rate increase Wednesday.
City Clerk Carl Callahan recommended the increase to help balance the city's $800,000 deficit, although the proposed 2013-14 budget of almost $36.15 million is a work in progress.
If the 8.5 percent increase is approved, homeowners with a property value of $100,000 would pay $46 more per year. Callahan said most Bradenton homes fall in the $80,000 to $100,000 range.
The tentative rate passed by a 4-0 vote. Councilman Bemis Smith was not in attendance.
"We're just starting the process," said Callahan. "We can work over the month based on your desires."
The increase -- from 5.4356
mills to 5.8976 mills -- will also help fund street paving and give city employees their first wage increase since 2007.
"It's not about giving everybody raises, but saying those who are the lowest of the low; how do we get them where they should be?" said Callahan.
Mayor Wayne Poston agreed.
"We want to make sure the people sitting side-by-side are getting paid the same thing. We want to make sure everyone is treated fair," Poston said. "Some will get raises, some won't."
City officials said the proposed millage increase would help with these concerns.
A millage rate is a property tax applied to real estate's assessed value. Millage rates are expressed in tenths of a penny. For example, a millage rate of 2 mills means 2/10ths of a penny.
Councilman Patrick Roff said it is hard for him to accept the increase, but he did so because he knows it's the best thing for the city.
"It's a little higher than I was hoping for," said Roff. "I'm going beyond my comfort level on this, but I'm doing it because I believe it's what the city needs to do."
Councilman Harold Byrd wanted to be well-informed on the rate increase so he could explain it to residents.
"You want to be able to explain this increase to constituents," said Byrd. "You want to set it at a rate that you can deal with."
Bradenton's millage rate is higher than some surrounding communities, but Callahan said the comparison is warped because those municipalities do not have fire departments funded by the city. Councilman Gene Gallo agreed.
"In the long run, it's a lot cheaper than to have a fire district," said Gallo. "Some people pay $400 or $500 a year for their fire district."
Poston said he's fine with the increase, which will also help fund pensions for workers in public safety.
"It makes sense to me and we have to pay our pensions," said Poston. "I think we are being responsible. We have to pay those no matter what and crime is down seven years in a row, and we have good equipment."
Poston said the city has a lower millage rate now than it did in 1981.
"I think we've been responsible in holding those down. We've been prudent in managing everyone's money," said Poston.
City Council will have 5 p.m. budget meetings Sept. 11 and Sept. 18, which will be a public hearing and second reading for the budget.
Janey Tate, city of Bradenton and Palmetto reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7041. You can follow her on Twitter at Janey_Tate.