BRADENTON — The city council heard a bit of good news Wednesday about the budget, but it was not enough to overshadow a dire money situation.
City Clerk Carl Callahan told the council that the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s final property valuation figure was slightly higher than the preliminary number.
The $2.6 billion valuation will provide about $40,000 in additional revenues if the property tax rate stayed the same, Callahan said, but it does very little in reducing the $3 million-plus shortfall in revenues over last year.
As he has been telling the council for the past several months, the city clerk said elected officials will have to make some hard decisions to produce a balanced budget.
“You’re presented with a big hole and you’ll have to figure out how to fill that hole,” Callahan said. “You can either increase taxes, cut services or cut employees.”
None of the council members were willing to show their hand on how they plan to vote on a balanced spending plan, until they hear from their constituents at a town hall meeting later this month.
But they did agreed to set a tentative property tax rate at the July 21 meeting that Callahan suggested could be the rollback rate.
The rollback rate would produce the same amount of property tax revenue as last year, but would be higher than last year’s tax rate.
Once the tentative tax rate is set, the council can reduce it; but to increase the rate they would have to go through a complicated procedure.
The rollback would be about $4.90 for each $1,000 in assessed property value.
The city has had a property tax rate of $4.2843 for every $1,000 in assessed property value for several years.
The decline in property values has lead to a drop in property tax revenues and along with a decrease in other city revenues, such as sales tax receipts, fees and grants, this year’s $33.5 million general fund budget has to be trimmed about $3.1 million.
In response to the poor economy, there has been a $7.9 million reduction in spending over the past three years.
City employees have not had a raise during those three years and at Wednesday’s workshop the council heard from their health insurance managers on how benefits will be reduced to keep costs down.
Kelley Swanman, with Cigna HealthCare of Florida, said to maintain the same premium rate as last year, the city employees will have to accept higher deductibles, copays and out-of-pocket costs.
After a discussion of doubling the employees’ contribution to the premium, the council decided to go along with the changes to the plan.
Carl Mario Nudi, Herald staff reporter, can be reached at 745-7027.