TR Analysis: The City’s Big Lie, “Our Millage Rate is the Lowest in the State”

TR Analysis: The City’s Big Lie, “Our Millage Rate is the Lowest in the State”

The local budget debate, over the proposed property tax increase, has taken many twist and turns and final approval is still more than a month away.

The recent 3-2 vote to tentatively approve a 23% increase in property taxes leaves the door open for more debate.

The City has gone to great lengths to justify the increase.

The City has tried to couch the increase as a “public safety” tax even though the tax is needed for general government pay raises and other expenditures not related to public safety.

City leaders tried to persuade the local police union to endorse the increase, they said no!

Now comes another PR move that is even more misleading than the “public safety” tax line.

During the vote to set the tentative property tax rate, City Commissioner Nancy Miller said “we have raced to the bottom of millage rates of cities in Florida.”

Take a look and listen.

Her message to citizens is clear: we have the lowest millage rate in the state of Florida, so be grateful and accept the tax increase.

But here is what no one in the City of Tallahassee will tell you during this debate: The City of Tallahassee has the lowest property tax rate because the city uses zero property taxes to pay for fire services, a core service.

On page 2 of the most recent annual report to the City’s bondholders, the City informs the bondholders of an important qualifier when talking about millage rates:

Property taxes can significantly impact the citizen’s perception of economic success. The City’s millage rate of 3.7000 mills is the lowest of the ten largest cities in Florida. However, not all of the comparable cities have implemented a separate fire service fee to cover the cost of fire protection as the City of Tallahassee has done. (Emphasis added)

The City informs the bondholders, but will not inform their own citizens.

Some cities have a fire service fee that augments property taxes that funds fire service.  But Tallahassee pays for the total cost of fire service with a fee. TR could find no other City that finances fire services with only a fee.

This is why we have the “lowest” millage rate and why any comparison with other cities is not valid and misleading.

However, what would happen if we convert the fees collected for fire service into an equivalent millage rate and add that rate to the current property tax rate so we could have a valid comparison?

How would Tallahassee compare to other cities in the state?

TR requested copies of budget documents for five other cities, one of the cities had a fire service fee, the others did not. We also called and talked with staff in each of the cities.

The chart below shows the results of our analysis.

Budget 2015COMP
Comparison of 2015 Property Tax Rates with Fire Service Fees Included

When you include fire service fees (column 2) in the calculation of the millage rate (column 3), the City of Tallahassee moves from the lowest millage rate (column 1) among the six cities to the second highest (column 4).

Only Orlando has a higher rate.

The above analysis is before the proposed increase in property taxes and fire service fee are implemented on October 1, 2016.

What happens if we change the chart to include these proposed increases?

We called the other cities and confirmed no other city is considering a property tax increase for 2016 – this could change, but as of today no increases are planned.

Like Tallahassee, Gainesville is considering an increase in the fire service fee. Those increases were taken into account in our analysis.

The chart below is the results of our analysis and shows where Tallahassee will rank if the proposed tax increase and increase in fire service fee takes effect.

Budget 2016COMP
Comparison of 2016 Property Tax Rates with Fire Service Fees Included

Suddenly, we have raced to the the top in property tax rates!

Column 1 shows Tallahassee’s recently passed tentative rate (4.55) and column 2 shows the conversion of Tallahassee fire fees to a millage rate of 3.05. Adding these rates together gives a property tax rate of 7.60, the highest in the group of six cities and one of the highest in the state.

There’s no other way to say this, the millage rate that Commissioner Miller is celebrating (3.70) is fictitious and amounts to a Big Lie.

And it’s a lie that has consequences, because having one of the highest tax rates in Florida impacts the business climate and makes it harder for the economy to grow and provide jobs. A high tax rate makes it difficult for new companies to start and existing ones to expand.

Now you can call it a public safety tax and you can try and hide behind fees, but do you think a chief financial officer of a company that is looking to move to a city in Florida is not going to figure out this shell game?

The facts are this proposed property tax increase, with the increase in the fire service fee, will make us one of most taxed communities in the state of Florida.

Notes on calculations
Conversion of fire service fee to millage rate:

2015 Tallahassee: Tallahassee fire service fees for city residents are $21.539 million. One point in millage rate equals $8.885 million. Therefore, the equalvalent millage rate would be $21.539 million divided by $8.885 million, which is 2.42 mills.

2015 Gainesville: Gainesville fire services fees are $5.184 million. One point in millage rate equals $5.454 million. Therefore the equalvalent millage rate would be $5.184 million divided by $5.454 million, which is .95 mills.

2016 Tallahassee: Tallahassee fire service fees are projected to be $28.094 million. One point in millage rate equals $9.200 million. Therefore the equalvalent millage rate would be $28.094 million divided by $9.200 million, which is 3.05 mills.

2016 Gainesville: Gainesville fire services fees are projected to be $5.400 million. One point in millage rate equals $5.586 million. Therefore the equalvalent millage rate would be $5.400 million divided by $5.586 million which is .97 mills.

14 Responses to "TR Analysis: The City’s Big Lie, “Our Millage Rate is the Lowest in the State”"

  1. Yet no one ever mentions the fervid efforts of former Tallahassee Mayor Dorothy Inman Crews etc. to rid the city of General Dynamics and Tadiran, cutting edge companies that had built plants in Tallahassee to build military radios. Reasons given were that Tadiran was an Israeli Company and General Dynamics through its Cessna Division sold crop spray planes to South Africa, an aparthide country at the time and a general objection to supporting American military capability! When it was pointed out that 52% of these well paid and happy employees were minority, the Mayor countered with that they could just get jobs with the State. And the Mayor and Council are larking around the country trying to find ways to attract industry and jobs! Are you kidding me??????????

    1. I wouldnt say that Mr. Shiver. I think there are some smart people left. We just need to find new approaches to solve these problems. It seems that people want to use fail strategies to address issues that are resulting from the use of that same failed strategy.

      New Ideas!!!!

  2. Look around you at some the nice retail and national chains that have established at least a beginning presence in Tallahassee in the last five years. Now look at Tallahassee’s expanding crime rate, tax rate, and unemployment figures. Tallahassee is in the national news – for all the wrong reasons. The basic foundations of Tallahassee’s economic growth and the municipal environment for supporting those foundations are moving in opposite directions:

    * Higher tax rates, crime rates, unemployment = increasing.
    * Business incentives, lower tax rates,
    low crime rate, employment = decreasing.

    If the above two conditions continue, as our city government seems determined and happy to do with their ethics and agenda:
    1. Inevitably businesses will shut down (all that nice retail you see now) and
    depart for better communities, followed soon by equally unhappy citizens.
    2. Home prices will decline as Tallahassee cements itself a solid
    reputation as Florida’s least desirable place to live or build a business.
    3. Abandoned strip malls and once-busy shopping/dining areas will become
    the site of increasing criminal activity and drug deals. The declining tax
    base will lead to a declining police force.
    4. The sole surviving economic activity will be the state government and the universities, but FSU and TCC would go into decline as parents choose to send their kids (and money) to safer schools in better-quality cities (there are plenty of choices and north FL is regarded as a remote, rural area to most of Florida’s population).

    In short, if the path of Tallahassee doesn’t change and soon, it will become a slowly dying city: Florida’s answer to Detroit, Baltimore, and other near-empty cities of the northeastern rust-belt with corrupt governments and a govt-dependent (a few state jobs and mostly welfare recipients) population.

  3. The tragedy is that many of us no longer anticipate anything other than a corrupt local government.

    The Social Contract designed to enhance the greater good of the Tallahassee community has been displaced by regressive taxes and corporate welfare designed to benefit the Doubletree Hotel, the Marriot Hotel, Ron Sachs, Mad Dog Construction, the Seminole Boosters, Chamber members, and even $100,000 for the Springtime Tallahassee Parade.

    (The Parade has featured, among other things,the Sons of the Confederate Veterans.)

    With resultant increases in income inequality, economic segregation and poverty, social dysfunction including increasing rates of crime, homicide and black infant mortality should be expected rather than a surprise.

  4. And I understand Chicago was chosen as a sister city from which we are to model our crime prevention policy after. REALLY ?

  5. We are not well governed or led.

    This is what you get with Anita Favors Thompson, a succession of corrupt mayors, a majority of liberal Democrat city commissioners, a liberal Democrat newspaper and TV stations that lie and obfuscate in pursuit of their Leftist agenda, and an overwhelmingly clueless and ignorant liberal Democrat and minority electorate that keeps electing these terrible leaders.

  6. TR, I think you also need to add in the monthly Stormwater Fee.

    The new moto for the City of Tallahassee:


    Number one in Taxes
    Number one in Crime
    Number one in lack of Economic Growth
    Number one in Corruption
    Number one in Child Mortality
    Number one in Bureaucracy
    Number one in growth of local government
    Number one in lack of participation in voting
    Number one in voting in the same political dolts

  7. It’s a sorry city government we have, that believes the more tax $$$ it can get to pay for expensive toys then the economy is good because government sponsors it. This is a ‘broad brush’ statement but with few exceptions on our commission, the rest (and the ‘Mayor’) believe this is the way it should be. Check out the ‘Mayor’s’ outside source of income and their philosophy. It will show you why he thinks as he does.

  8. The 2016 budget documents on ($file/D%20-%20Operating%20Budget%20Appropriations%20and%20Financial%20Summary.pdf) lists the transfer from electric to general fund at $28,801,313. Using the cnversion factor of $8,885,000/mil yields an additional 3.24 mils. Thus, we now are up to 10.84 mils! I do not know if the other cities cited transfer funds from publicly owned utilities to their general fund, or, if so, to what extent.

  9. The City of Tallahassee also has electric revenue not included in their millage rate. If you added that in Tallahassee is the highest taxing city even comparable with large urban areas that have more needs that we have. They are all liberal liars.

  10. All governments are broke. For the remainder of my life, the name of the game is shuck and jive. Any methodology to bleed money from the people will be explored. One of our commissioners said that this tax increase “only” amounts to about $10 per year. And that is great, taken at face value. However, the reality of the situation is that we are being hit with increased property taxes, increased school district taxes, increased income taxes, increased automobile taxes, increased gas taxes, increased 911 fees, increased communication taxes, yada, yada, yada. And folks, this will continue to happen until Leon County has two types of residents, the extremely rich and the extremely poor. Look at any big city, it’s coming. The best thing to do is reduce your taxable footprint. Live small.

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