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Bradenton looks to raise city tax rates

BRADENTON — Facing a shortfall of about $1.5 million in revenue next year, the Bradenton City Council voted Wednesday to tentatively raise the property tax rate about 40 cents on every $1,000 in taxable property value.

City Clerk Carl Callahan outlined for the council all the cuts each city department has made.

With the downturn in the real estate market reducing taxable property values and the Legislature’s expansion last year of homestead exemptions, local governments are having to cut general operating expenses.

“There are very few non-essential services the city provides, such as libraries,” Callahan said. “So when it comes to cuts, it’s a matter of what level of service the city will provide” for public safety and general operations.

The council voted 4-1 to set the tentative property tax rate at $4.6758 for every $1,000 in taxable property value, compared to the current rate of $4.2843.

After the meeting, Councilman Patrick Roff, who cast the sole dissenting vote, said residents have not yet realized the dire straits local governments are experiencing.

“These are hard economic times and acceptance is the last stage of human emotion.” Roff said. “The citizens have to realize where they stand and ask for leadership.”

Residents want to have it both ways, in that “they want to cut taxes and increase services,” he said, “and that’s understandable.”

Some of the other council members who spoke at the meeting said they were voting for the increase only to move the budget writing process forward, and not necessarily because they expect the tax rate to be higher.

“I may support setting the rate now,” said Councilman Bemis Smith, “but I’m not inclined to support any tax increases.”

Smith said the city has to do what families and small businesses have to do — reduce spending.

Councilman Harold Byrd said he also was only supporting the tax hike to keep the process moving forward.

“The good thing about setting it this far out is that we can come back and change it,” Byrd said.

Council members Marianne Barnebey and Gene Gallo also voted to set the higher tax rate.

Callahan went through a series of graphs and explanations demonstrating what he described as the city’s historically lower tax rates and efficient governmental operations.

The city has trimmed the general operating budget over the past two years by $2.8 million, to $36 million.

The city clerk said the proposed budget for next year was to be another $2.8 million less than this year’s, or $33.2 million. But with the projected shortfalls in property taxes and other revenue, he will have to find another $1.5 million to cut.

Unless the council votes to increase the tax rate.