Approximately 95 citizens attended the Town Hall meeting sponsored by Tallahassee Reports last Thursday to address the City’s proposed 27% increase in property taxes. The meeting was held at the Killearn Country Club.
The Town Hall was held so that City Commissioners could provide information and take questions about the proposed tax increase.
City Commissioners Scott Maddox, Curtis Richardson, and Gil Ziffer attended.
Commissioner Nancy Miller first committed to attend, but cancelled two days prior to the meeting without explanation.
Mayor Gillum never responded to our invitation.
Also in attendance was Police Chief DeLeo and the City’s budget director, Heath Beach.
The meeting began with the City Commissioners stating their positions on the proposed tax increase.
Commissioner Maddox was clear in his opposition and vowed to try and balance the budget without an increase.
Commissioner Ziffer was also against the 27% increase, but felt that some increase would be needed.
Commissioner Richardson spoke in support of the increase.
The questions and answers lasted just over an hour and revealed a number of interesting facts.
First, those in attendance were overwhelmingly against the proposed tax increase.
The concerns of the citizens that were most often mentioned revolved around pay raises for non-public safety employees and the view that a $700 million budget could be cut by $9 million, the amount to be raised by the tax increase, without affecting services.
Commissioner Richardson responded by saying the City was very well run and that the City Manager had successfully guided the City through tough times.
Second, the current City budget process is not conducive to effective oversight by elected officials.
Commissioners Maddox and Ziffer voiced concern over their inability to get at the details in the budget and therefore make recommendations about changes.
Third, the debate about how much of the tax increase is needed for public safety was not resolved. The City staff is telling local media that close to 80% of the increase, about $8 million, is for public safety.
While Commissioner Richardson echoed those comments, Commissioner Maddox disagreed with that assessment when he said that he thought their were opportunities to find the additional $2-3 million needed for the public safety without a tax increase.
Fourth, while all three Commissioners seemed supportive of pay raises for general employees, it was an item that they seemed open to scaling back.
And finally, attendees of the Town Hall provided concrete recommendations on how to avoid a tax increase.
Ted Thomas, a local business person, recommended a small increase ($.0025 per kwh sold) in electric rates, that would end after four years, to raise the funds needed for public safety.
Barney Bishop, a member of the NEBA board, a local business group, recommended that priorities be established by requiring City department heads to detail how they would cut 10% from their budgets. This information could then be used by elected officials to make the final decisions on what gets funded.
City Commissioners will next convene on Tuesday, July 7th at 9:00 am at City Hall for a budget workshop.
Based on the Town Hall meeting, many will be watching the actions of Commissioners Scott Maddox and Gil Ziffer.