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After Lobbying for Property Tax Increase, City Staff Reports $17.6 Million in Surpluses & Overcharges for 2015

Posted on December 8, 2015

After Lobbying for Property Tax Increase, City Staff Reports $17.6 Million in Surpluses & Overcharges for 2015

Do you remember the contentious debate between the Budget Hawks, who claimed a property tax increase was not needed because the City had plenty of money, and the City staff, who argued for the increase because of the lack of revenue?

Well, as of today, it appears the Budget Hawks may have been more right than some thought.

The City of Tallahassee closed out the books for fiscal year 2015 and discovered that they had collected $17.6 million more than was needed to operate the City.

This comes just three months after City staff had argued they were in desperate need for a tax increase to fund essential government services.

In September the City Commission sided with City staff and voted 4 -1 to raise property taxes by 13%. The increase will raise $6.3 million in 2016.

Commissioner Scott Maddox voted against the increase.

Here is the breakdown of the surpluses/overcharges:

General Fund: $1,667,952

Electric Fund:$7,320,000
Gas Fund:$2,100,000
Water Fund:$1,000,000
Sewer Fund:$3,800,000
Solid Waste:$892,971
Stormwater:$891,405

Total Surpluses/Overcharges: $17,672,328

The City’s utilities are responsible for the lions share of the surplus/overcharges, which ironically is the most regressive tax and hits the poorest citizens the hardest.

The General Fund surplus came in at $1.6 million, but that number will rise to $4.4 million when the $2.8 million from the Danfoss property sale is collected this year.

City staff is proposing that the City Commission refund $1 million of the $17.6 million surplus through a solid waste rebate for one year.

Did City staff know about the extent of the surpluses before the tax increase vote? Did City Commissioners know about the surpluses? TR is investigating.

13 Responses to After Lobbying for Property Tax Increase, City Staff Reports $17.6 Million in Surpluses & Overcharges for 2015

  1. HOPE & CHANGE Reply

    December 8, 2015 at 11:41 am

    I am shocked, not really, this shows the utter and total incompetence of the former City Manager and her staff. If this is not a reason why the City Commission should look outside the current staff for a new City Manager then the entire City Hall is corrupt.

    We need change!

  2. Is There a Way Reply

    December 8, 2015 at 1:26 pm

    Is there anyway to rescend the property tax increase? Can a commissioner suggest it? Can the voters do it? Is there ANY legal way? Seems that the misrepresentation would be cause enough. Otherwise the tax rate will never go down again, and we will see that somehow these “surpluses” will be used perhaps for raises, new hires, bonuses, or pet city projects- while local property owners engaged in commercial ventures struggle to keep small businesses alive and make profits. I bet government staff will be cheering like we have miraculously won the lottery and the power people will find ways to use that money quickly. Let’s hope part of this newly found surplus will be saved to be used for the future salaries for all the new hires on the police force. I believe after 3 years the money designated for this will need to come from another source and if we don’t have a surplus saved for that- well we all know what will occur. Government will once again be asking to raise property taxes to handle keeping those extra law enforcement officers. Seriously, besides exposing the truth (thank you Tallahassee Reports and Budget Hawks – plus others), is there action that can be taken?

  3. Steve Reply

    December 8, 2015 at 1:29 pm

    This is unbelievable! Poor management from top down. Is anything really going to change with an insider new city manager!??!

  4. Ingolf Askevold Reply

    December 9, 2015 at 6:42 am

    I pay tons of property taxes to Leon County, and surely I have no interest in paying more if the City is suffering this much profit. However, let’s be careful not to mislead, or at least let’s be clear. It took months of asking around for me to discover the 13% increase does NOT apply to our entire tax bill – rather only to one city tax line. So we can feel better that the actual increase in dollars may be only $50 or so for a Leon County property tax bill that already exceeds $3500?

    • Bryan Cronin Reply

      December 9, 2015 at 9:21 am

      Feel better? We were lied to! Tell that to the family who cannot food or healthcare and now have to pay the extra taxes, knowing the city profited over $17M this year and $8M last year.

  5. Mike Reply

    December 9, 2015 at 8:32 am

    This city’s government is broken and poisoned beyond repair. Corruption, collusion, and circular dishonesty are so entrenched in the culture and policies at City Hall that things will not possibly change by personal choice on their part or anything else short of legal force. The entire present management roster must go, starting with Mayor Gillum, his staff, and all his lobbyists, and then out with every one of the city commissioners and the present “Ethics Officer” and City Manager. No present member of city management or anyone appointed/hired by them can remain. We must start with a clean slate.

    How this is done is up to the citizens, but we must take action far stronger than mere City Hall meetings where citizens’ concerns are consistently brushed aside and ignored, or simply rewarded with veiled insults. We need to organize a recall election and install (under an entirely new salary structure, the old one must go):
    1: a new government composed of ethical, qualified, competent commissioners,
    2: a revolving mayor (to minimize abuse of power),
    3: an entirely independent Ethics Officer answerable only to the citizens and the Citizen Review Board
    4: a MANDATORY independent Citizen Review Board which has complete independent and FINAL audit and approval authority over all city budgetary matters AND spending priorities, particularly taxes and salaries and how they are structured/applied, and any available budget surpluses. Members of this board will revolve at mandatory six-month intervals and by charter cannot be personal friends or business associates of city officers.
    5: present Tallahassee policies of owning their own utilities needs to be completely reexamined and top-down reworked or discarded in favor of more efficient and budget-effective solutions.
    6: ANY city management member can be recalled at regular intervals if necessary, no employment is guaranteed unless consistent performance review approval is met, just as in the private sector.

    Again, this city government is beyond repair or redress. It must go in in its entirety and be replaced by an entirely new government structure.

    • Mark Reply

      December 9, 2015 at 9:22 am

      Every one of the officials you mention plus all the others so often described in the articles within Tallahassee Reports all go to one source to get approval and vet their questionable actions:

      The Tallahassee City Attorney’s Office.

      This is the source of the poisoned city government. Clean out the City Attorney and especially the long-time entrenched staff, and things will improve dramatically.

      • Mark Reply

        December 9, 2015 at 9:36 am

        PS:
        If you want a real eye opener, pull a public records search of the City Attorney (and staff!) emails for a month. You will be stunned and permanently disillusioned at the lack of integrity and their approach to government. It’s all about what they can get away with. I’ve done it. You will never believe in any city officials again.

  6. WallTreatment Reply

    December 9, 2015 at 8:48 am

    http://talgov.com/treasurer/commission-officials-cooke.aspx

    The higher-ups are scum, yes. But check out this other clown, the city treasurer. He has masters degree in accounting. And he considers himself a Christian too. This is the guy that is supposed to balance the checkbook. He was not aware that the city had a $17 million profit from the citizenry? Also, when the hell was the local government supposed to become a business. Either he is a liar or he is inept. Perhaps both.

    At the city hall meetings like tonight, if they didn’t have armed cops there to protect them, these so called leaders of the city would be lynched. Criminal scum.

    If you want to destroy a city, drop a nuclear bomb on it or, let liberals run it.

    • Russell Price Reply

      December 9, 2015 at 10:32 am

      Jim Cooke is neither a liar nor is he corrupt. He is a good man who is both highly competent and of good character. He has virtually no role in serting the budget. Even though I may share your frustration over city budget issues, personally attacking staff is flat out wrong and only weakens our position.

      • WallTreatment Reply

        December 9, 2015 at 12:39 pm

        You didn’t read the article did you? In the very first paragraph it is written that the city staff argued for the increase because of lack of revenue.

        What is the treasurer but city staff. The Commissioners were only too glad to oblige the staff.

        If this treasurer is not in any way disingenuous, he needs to come out and say it. He needs to first come out and explain why there was such a lapse in his judgement as to argue for more taxes yet not require them.

        • The Village Idiot Reply

          December 9, 2015 at 7:34 pm

          To be fair, the Mr. Cooke is not over the accounting department nor the budgeting department. He is over the area that receives the money and balances the checkbook, but he is not over budget projections nor is he over the accounting department which would know the City would be anticipating revenues exceeding expenses. I think your frustrations are aimed at the wrong area, based on the org chart on the city’s website – assuming it is correct.

  7. Terry Ward Reply

    December 9, 2015 at 12:47 pm

    Everyone needs to go, from the Mayor, Commissioners and Senior Staff. There is a reason Maddox voted against the tax increase and it is not for the good of the Citizens of the City. He knew the overages back then and was not willing to blow the whistle.

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