BROOKSVILLE - City council members took their first look at the proposed budget for fiscal year 2013-14. Before the evening was over, council discussed the relevancy of having a city fire department, and moved to tentatively raise both the millage and fire assessment rate for city residents.
Before taking the 4-1 vote to adopt the millage rate, Mayor Lara Bradburn explained city council has historically set the millage "at the maximum for deliberation purposes."
Bradburn added residents should be aware the tentative millage rate is not final, and gives council some "wiggle room" as they proceed through budget talks.
The city's roll-back rate for next fiscal year is 6.7188 mills, the amount needed to generate the same amount of taxes collected the previous year.
If council members did adopt an 8 percent millage rate, it would be the highest rate since 2008.
The millage rate is $1 for every $1,000 in taxable value. According to City Manager Jennene Norman-Vacha, a mill today is worth $371,205. If the city did keep the millage rate at 8 percent, a homeowner with a house worth $100,000 in the city would be responsible for $800 in taxes.
The same homeowner, assuming the home is valued the same, would have paid $660 in taxes last fiscal year, when the millage rate was set at 6.6 percent.
Norman-Vacha presented an overview of the balanced budget, explaining her office was mindful of the "fragile economy" and "fiscal constraints of residents and business owners." Norman-Vacha said the budget takes into account "limited resources" and the commitment of the city to delivering quality services for residents.
If passed, the budget would give all of city employees a 3 percent pay raise based on cost of living increases. Staffing levels have decreased about 11 percent since 2009, when the city had the equivalent of 100 full-time employees.
Norman-Vacha said city employees had not received a pay raise since 2009-10, when employees were given a $250 one-time cash payment. Salaries were raised the three previous years, with the largest increase of five percent in 2006-07.
Norman-Vacha said the state minimum wage has increased each year since 2011.
The city manager also said she expects workers compensation and health insurance rates to increase this coming fiscal year.
City council reviewed the general budget by department. When council discussed fire services, which cost the city about $1.4 million in 2012, Vice Mayor Kevin Hohn said he had made Brooksville Fire Chief Tim Mossgrove a "promise he couldn't keep."
"While it's great to have a top-notch fire department, I'm not sure we can afford it anymore," Hohn said. "The fact is there is a (county) fire department that could take up the slack and probably hire our firefighters."
Hohn said fire rescue accounted for 23 percent of the city's budget, and that money could be used for much-needed improvements to the city's infrastructure.
No other council members agreed with Hohn's suggestion. Council member Joe Bernardini said Brooksville has "fantastic services," and the city would end up paying the county for fire rescue services if the fire department was dissolved.
"If a city doesn't offer fire protection, police protection, why have a city?" Bradburn asked, adding the city fire department boasts a high response rate the county can't offer.
Council member Frankie Burnett said he would never support losing the fire or police departments.
Burnett suggested the city involve the public, and campaign for their support to set aside the equivalent of one mill for infrastructure improvements.
Council also moved to tentatively raise the fire assessment rate, which helps fund the fire department, from .52 percent per unit to .90. City property owners pay a $71 flat fee. Under the new rates, the city would charge 90 cents per $1,000 on all improvements. Comparing the new rates to the previous rates, Norman-Vacha said a property owner whose building was worth about $46,000 would only pay about $17.48 more for the improvements with the new rate. The final fire assessment rate will be set during a September hearing.
The proposed budget also sets aside $27,000 for special events, which can be used to promote the Florida Blueberry Festival and waive fees for the annual event.
The proposed budget is posted online at http://www.ci.brooksville.fl.us. Two more budget workshops are scheduled for 6 p.m. on Aug. 13 and 27, with two final hearings set for September.