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Council works on Town preliminary budget

August 20, 2014
By BOB PETCHER ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Estimated budget numbers for the 2014-15 fiscal year are getting closer to becoming reality.

The Fort Myers Beach Town Council reviewed document sheets for the upcoming year's general fund budget during a preliminary discussion at a workshop on Monday morning. As it stands now, that total budget figure stands at $6,455,276.

There will be more budget input at a scheduled workshop on Tuesday, Sept. 2, at 10 a.m., followed by a first public hearing on Thursday, Sept. 4, at 6:30 p.m. and the second and final hearing on Monday, Sept. 15, at 6:30 p.m.

Council has already established its tentative millage rate for taxpayers at 0.7530 mils. That number

is the same of the current fiscal year (2013-14). A lower rate may be approved upon at one or both of the budget hearings.

"The budget has been fairly consistent for the last two years," said Town Finance Director Evelyn Wicks, who mentioned the Beach has two major projects -water utility and storm water management- underway. "It's a budget the Town can work with."

Some budgetary numbers were questioned. There was a substantial increase in operating grants from last year's budget to this year's proposed budget ($63,000 to $125,500); a large decrease in miscellaneous revenues ($199,050 to $156,050); and a huge decrease in revenue transfers ($1,409,097 to $621,790).

"The biggest part of that was transfers in from reserves," said Wicks about last year's $1.4 million in transfers for water utility.

Councilman Alan Mandel would like to see a separate tax fund to set up the Town Capital Improvement Plan. The Beach has a equipment replacement projection of roughly $164,000 to replace many of its work vehicles.

Under expenditures, legal services will see a dramatic increase due to the recent settlement case regarding building development setbacks and heights at five properties on Palermo Circle. Last year's number was set at $214,400. This year's number is preliminarily proposed at $238,400, but Town Manager Don Stilwell sees an increase at possibly $70,000 over the budget. An adjustment may be needed in September when numbers become finalized.

There is also a greater amount of money in parking expenditures ($420,000 to $445,000) due to an agreed-upon Beach and Street Enforcement contract increase for a requested longer coverage in beach services during next fiscal year.

Public Works Director Scott Baker thinks the Town could bring that service in-house in the next few years instead of out-sourcing it. Beach Mayor Anita Cereceda tends to agree.

"I think it is a ridiculously high expenditure for the town," she said.

Maritime costs have a proposed increase from $217,528 to $246,881. The following year, Town officials may terminate Lee County Sheriff Office mooring field patrol services and save $65,000 in the process. While Councilman Dan Andre has noticed little ticketing from marine patrol during an evaluation of six months of activity reports, Baker pointed out there were a lot of stops and inspections in the back waters.

A grant may pay for that mooring patrol service.

Maintenance expenditures did see a decrease ($1,013,364 to $761,837) from last year to this year's proposed budget. Maintenance vehicles costs were noted to be a big part of the differential.

Town officials have seen an impressive run of maintaining one of the lowest tax rates in the state of Florida. The Beach has been ranked among the best municipalities in terms of lowest levied taxes in the state, according to the website.

This year, the Town budget is proposing a revenue gain of $2,009,005 from property taxes, compared to $1,900,262 from last year. An increase in property values have helped in that regard.

Last year, $500,000 were taken from Town general reserves to balance the budget. The 2013-14 expenditures ($7,305,971) exceeded the revenues ($6,805,971).



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