With its first budget hearing for Fiscal Year 2013-14 looming, the Fort Myers Beach Town Council held a work session last Tuesday to crunch some numbers and consider lowering its proposed millage rate regarding ad valorem taxes.
Back in mid-June, Council approved a tentative operating ad valorem rate at 0.7687 mils to be in compliance with Florida Truth in Millage Law requirements and set two budget hearings for Tuesday, Sept. 3, at 6:30 p.m., and Monday, Sept. 16, at 6:30 p.m. The TRIM rate is the same as the current millage rate, which was adopted in mid-September last year.
Town officials, including Finance Director Evelyn Wicks, are recommending lowering the millage rate to 0.7530 mils to reflect the roll back rate. To do so, line items were reviewed and discussions to reduce costs and raise revenue ensued.
"If you decided you wanted to keep the taxes at exactly the same level from an island-wide municipal perspective, a total community value, you would have to drop the millage rate to 0.7530," said Stewart. "The millage rate is one variable in the calculations. The biggest one is the actual value of the property itself."
Last year's property tax levied was $1,900,262, which included $1,961,365 initially proposed minus $61,103 in tax reductions through appeals. This year's proposed tax levy is $1,942,420.
One particular line item dissected last week was Town payments for special or seasonal events expenses. The FY 2013 expenses for that alone was $122,206.44 -more than half of which was appropriated for related fireworks expenses for July 4 and Dec. 31 events.
This year, the Town has $30,000 set aside for fireworks in contingency funds and is looking into acquiring business sponsorships through package deals to fund the remaining amount.
"I think that is achievable," said Acting Parks and Recreation Director Randy Norton, when asked about large amount sponsorships.
Stewart called the Town "financially stable" and its reserves "outstanding" through Council direction over several years. He also stated general fund reserves are needed for a minimum of three months of operating expenses in case of emergency and to replace capital equipment.
Due to reliability and repair issues, Town officials are looking to replace some maintenance equipment that has been kept possibly three to four years longer than expected as compared to state guidelines. The final budget document will reflect a capital reserve fund with a beginning amount of $50,000.
"At some point, you have to upgrade that fleet, because it will continue to face wear and tear," Stewart said. "A capital equipment reserve fund won't change the totals of the budget."
"We already know that this is going to have to get done anyway," added Councilman Bob Raymond.
"It's better than waiting until we HAVE to buy (new equipment)."
Unrelated, the proposed maintenance budget is $708,262. The Lee County Tourist Development Council has approved $242,020 of it, leaving $466,262 to possibly be funded by the Town's general fund.
A five-year budget forecast for years 2014-18 was also reviewed as was a fee schedule for parks & recreation.
Council members have given recommendations to Town staff either in meetings or individually since the first budget workshop back in February.
"I think we are very well along in the budget process and very, very close where you want to be," said Stewart.