As Palmetto officials face a $200,000 budget deficit in the city’s proposed $11.2 million tentative budget for the 2016-17 fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, officials took time to honor and recognize some of the city’s police officers on Monday night.
Police Chief Scott Tyler presented the department’s Life Saving Award to officers Angel Uruchima, Micah Mathews and Tim Matthews. According to Tyler, a motorcyclist was involved in an accident earlier this year and his injuries were significant. Tyler said the man’s leg was “practically severed” and had it not been for the quick actions of his three officers, who performed life-saving actions to stop the bleeding, the motorcyclist would have likely perished from his injuries.
That was the good news for Monday’s city meeting as commissioners devoted much of the night to their first look at the city’s proposed budget. Despite a 6.5 percent increase in property values throughout the city, raising $370,000 in revenue, as well as a quarter mill bump in taxes last year, it remained unclear how the city will move forward to make up the deficit.
City clerk Jim Freeman said the budget includes a lot of “catch up” spending on filling city positions that were cut during the economic downtown and purchasing much-needed new equipment that has been on hold for several years. Most of the enterprise type funding, such as stormwater, sewer and utility, which are customer paid fees, show balanced budgets.
Freeman said it’s the general operations of the city that continue to struggle because it relies heavily on property taxes. That challenge is expected to get more difficult as the city closes in on an employee salary rate study that Freeman expects “to be a big number.” That big number has not been included in the budget, which already shows a deficit to overcome.
Salaries encompass about 20 percent of the city’s overall operational budget, but an employee salary study has not been done in 10 years. Freeman said it could be a significant change to the city’s budget. He said it would be up to the commission in how the expected increase in salaries would be implemented, “Whether they are all done this year or some this year and the rest in the next year or two.”
With not all of the numbers in to determine a millage rate, Freeman suggested that the city commission consider setting a higher millage rate, “because you can always lower it before finalizing the budget, but you can never increase it.” A mill is $1 per $1,000 of taxable property values.
Currently the city’s millage rate is 5.6522. A property owner with a $200,000 home is currently paying about $1,100 after last year’s quarter-mill increase. That same person would pay an additional $50 a year if the city were to increase taxes by another quarter mill.
Commissioner Tambra Varnadore said there is too little information available for the commission to make any decisions on what to cut or not to cut to balance the budget, especially with the salary study results looming. The city has until Aug. 1 to communicate it’s tentative millage rate to the state.
“I can’t provide input without figures,” said Varnadore. “It’s hard to say yay or nay to anything until we know. I’m in no mood to increase millage whatsoever. That’s a no go for me. Until we have the personnel costs, it’s hard to go forward.”
Freeman said he would try to accelerate getting the results and the commission scheduled a July 25 special meeting at 6 p.m.