In an exclusive interview with Tallahassee Reports, Steven Slade, the President of the Big Bend Chapter of the Florida PBA, voiced his frustration with City officials and their portrayal of the property tax increase in the local media.
On Sunday the Tallahassee Democrat published an editorial asking the City to reconsider the proposed property tax increase.
The editorial was based, at least in part, on an interview session with top city officials and Mayor Andrew Gillum, a day before a 3-2 vote to move forward with a 23% increase in property taxes.
However, it appears the City has doubled down on the argument that public safety is the reason for the property tax increase and the Tallahassee Democrat seems to have accepted that argument.
“The City Manager has known for years that we have had manpower issues at the police department. She and some Commissioners chose not to act until crime statistics forced their hand and now they want to blame the tax increase on our collective bargaining agreement” said Slade.
“At no time during the months of negotiations did the City Manager or any City Commissioner say they would have to raise the millage rate to support our current agreement” said Slade.
Slade continued “and now the City is throwing around numbers and some people print them before getting the facts.”
The numbers Slade is referring to is the amount of public safety dollars the City claims is part of the proposed tax increase and the amount for raises and pensions.
On July 5, 2015 the Democrat reported the “increased property tax rate would generate $9.2 million annually. City Budget Manager Heath Beach said nearly $8 million of that would go toward strengthening the ranks of TPD.”
And in Sunday’s editorial, the Democrat wrote that there was “roughly $7.7 million in proposed increased spending on TPD” and added, “the majority of new expense for this tax increase isn’t additional officers, it’s paying raises to current staff and pension to all city law enforcement.”
Slade said “the $8 million number does not add up. The budget department is combining 2015 spending with 2016 increases so that the City can sell the tax increase as public safety.”
And based on the City Managers own words, Slade may have a point.
Back on June 16, 2015, before the reaction from the proposed property tax increase was in full bloom, City Manager wrote in her budget message to the Mayor and City Commissioners that the:
proposed operating budget totals $704 million, representing an increase of $6.7 million with 2/3 of the increase ($4.8 million) going towards new police personnel and capital equipment.”
The original numbers put forth, $4.8 million, are supported by the budget documents and not the numbers being handed out by the City to local media outlets.
For example, the General Fund budget for 2016 shows an annual increase of $3.5 million for police operations, which includes additional officers, raises, and pension benefits.
In addition, the capital budget shows a $1.3 million increase for police department equipment.
Again, these numbers are consistent with the City Manager’s original proposal.
Why the $8 million number now?
Steve Slade says, “the $8 million may be a political number. The PBA is not involved in the manpower request or the departments funding. That is the responsibility of the chief of police and city officials.”