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Property tax increase in store for Bradenton?

BRADENTON — Reviewing the dire situation on the revenue side of the budget, the city clerk mentioned the “T-word” for the City Council to consider, while the mayor suggested holding a town hall meeting to hear from residents.

Although City Clerk Carl Callahan has already reported that the city was facing a $3.6 million shortfall in revenue over last year, at Wednesday’s council meeting he said in preparing next year’s budget there was very little on the spending side left to trim.

“You know I understand the ramifications about tax increases,” Callahan told a very attentive council, “but I would like you to look at adopting the roll-back (property tax) rate.”

He said the roll-back rate of $5.03 for each $1,000 in assessed property value would make up the $1.7 million property tax shortage.

The city has had a property tax rate of $4.2843 for every $1,000 in assessed property value for several years.

Property values in the city have dropped an estimated 13.4 percent in the past year.

With a drop 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 $3.6 million to balance next year’s budget.

Mayor Wayne Poston asked the council if they would be willing to hold a town hall meeting to present these hard numbers to residents. They all agreed citizen input would be helpful.

“In my heart I know the citizens want public safety, paved streets and the same level of service they’ve come to expect,” Poston said after the meeting. “What I don’t know is if they are willing to raise taxes some to do this.”

“The city has always had low taxes,” he said, “to our detriment.”

The mayor said public input is important in deciding what services to maintain.

Callahan said he and the city department heads have met to find areas in the budget that can be trimmed; but it won’t be easy since this is the third year of reduced revenues.

“Over the last three years there has been a $7.9 million reduction in budgets,” he told the council, which will ultimately be responsible for making the decision to raise the property tax or not.

“The department heads are looking for efficiencies every place they can,” the city clerk said, “but that comes with problems, considering the departments were previously efficient in providing services.”

With reduced resources, the departments will now have to look at cutting back services, Callahan said.

“That’s why the town hall meeting is important,” he said. “We want to see where the residents want to spend more and what are their expectations.”

With employee costs the largest part of the budget, that is the area where most of the cuts will have to be made, although Callahan said this should be done over a period of several years.

He said he notified the city staff to expect small reductions in pension contributions, longevity pay, vacations and leave time, and other benefits over time.

“This is not a one-year process,” the city clerk said. “It’ll be over two, three, four years because a lot of these things can’t be changed overnight.”

Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey asked about the increases to pension contributions.

Callahan said the state Legislature did not raise the required contribution this year, but warned local governments that there will be increases next year.

Also, local pension boards were requiring contribution increases of about $700,000 to maintain the benefits outlined in city code.

A date for the town hall meeting has not been set.

Also on Wednesday, the council:

n Had a first reading on an ordinance to repeal the local red light camera ordinance.

The Florida Legislature approved a state version of the ordinance, which overrides local laws.

n Honored 2010 Manatee High School graduate Isaac Riley, who was the only Manatee County public school student to receive an appointment to a United States military academy.

Riley will be heading off to West Point.