Last Wednesday, the City Commission ended one of the most contentious budget debates in memory with the approval of a 13% property tax increase and a 26.9% increase in fire service fees.
In the end, the City will spend more money than was asked for by City Manager Anita Favors Thompson in the proposed budget presented to the Commission back on June 19th.
The final operating budget approved was for $706 million, $2 million higher than the original proposal and the final capital budget was 145 million, $2 million more than the $143 million proposed in June.
It will take days, maybe weeks, to know just what was included and excluded in the budget that was approved.
The bottom line is Mayor Gillum and Commissioners Ziffer, Miller and Richardson voted to increase property taxes and the fire service fee.
Commissioner Scott Maddox kept his word and voted against the increase.
During the three month debate, Maddox’s position, which was repeated last week, was “should we ever raise property taxes I should be able to tell people there is no other resort.. I can’t do that..I can’t look people in the eye and tell them that.”
With the increases, the City of Tallahassee secures its place among the highest taxed (including the fire service fee) municipalities in Florida. For details see our report here.
Ironically, the increase in the fire service fee, which will hit low income citizens the hardest, was hardly discussed during the budget process, but will raise about as much revenue as the property tax increase.
The revenues projected to be raised in fiscal year 2016 from property taxes and fire service fees is approximately $12 million. This is in addition to the approximately $2.8 million the City will get from the BP settlement and the COPS grant money that the City will receive next year.
Supporters of the budget will cite the reduction in the General Fund from $150 million to the $148 million as concessions to citizen groups that attempted to curtail the increase by presenting budget alternatives.
However, when you consider the revenue from the $2.1 million BP settlement was integrated into the Genera Fund Budget, not much changed from June.
Until the end, Commissioners that supported the increases, argued the citizenry was not will informed. In fact Mayor Gillum said that “average citizens” do not understand the many different funds that provide the different city services.
Commissioner Scott Maddox responded by saying citizens understand that they have one pocket and that is where the money that funds city government comes from.
TR will file a report about the specifics of the approved budget when it is published by City staff.