County OKs tentative tax rate hikes


Published: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 8:53 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, July 16, 2013 at 8:53 p.m.

The Alachua County Commission approved tentative property tax rates for its fiscal year 2014 budget on Tuesday, but much debate lies ahead before it settles on final figures.

The board approved tentative rate increases for its general fund and three municipal services taxing units, which fund law enforcement, unincorporated services and the fire department.

They will be posted on the forthcoming truth in millage, or TRIM, notices that will be mailed to property owners, but the commission isn’t required to stick to them as budget discussions proceed.

Commissioners can vote to lower those property tax rates but they cannot hike them further unless new notices are sent out first, which Growth Management Director Steve Lachnicht, who is serving as interim budget director, said isn’t feasible.

The commission decided in favor of tentative rate increases for the general fund and all three MSTUs compared to the county’s fiscal year 2013 rates.

The board’s first motion, which included the general fund and various MSTU rates, failed. Commissioners split the rates into separate votes as a way to work through their differences of opinion in each case.

A tentative general fund property tax rate of 8.799 mills passed 3-2 with Commissioners Susan Baird and Mike Byerly in dissent — Baird because she wanted a lower ceiling and Byerly because he wanted a higher one.

Baird voted against the tentative property tax rates for the general fund and each of the MSTUs. She supported maintaining the current millage rates, saying the county is already placing too much of a burden on the people who pay property taxes.

Commissioner Mike Byerly emphasized that the purpose of Tuesday’s meeting was to set a ceiling for these respective property tax rates. The board doesn’t have to stick to those maximums, although they do provide some wiggle room as budget talks proceed.

Byerly said he felt county staff’s proposed millage rates were too low for the purpose of setting these ceilings.

The tentative general fund rate approved Tuesday is higher than the current rate of almost 8.6 mills, where one mill equals $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value. County staff had recommended a higher general fund rate of almost 8.94 mills for its budget proposal.

Lachnicht said the county will need to make additional cuts to its tentative budget as a result of the commission’s decision to set the ceiling for the general fund lower than originally planned.

The board set the tentative unincorporated MSTU rate at 0.5038 mills, which would provide a projected revenue increase of almost $397,000 compared to the FY2013 adopted budget if it is finalized later on. That rate is the simple-majority cap, which is the maximum rate that can be approved by three commissioners under state restrictions.

The tentative law enforcement MSTU rate was set at its supermajority cap of about 2.15 mills, compared to the current rate of about 1.67 mills, for a projected revenue increase of about $2.26 million. Commissioners Baird and Lee Pinkoson voted against setting the ceiling at that level.

The board approved a rate of almost 1.4 mills for the fire services MSTU for a projected revenue increase of around $238,000, compared to the current rate of almost 1.34 mills.

After setting these rates individually, commissioners approved an all-inclusive motion 4-1 with Baird in dissent.

The issue of employee raises arose during Tuesday’s discussion, with Pinkoson saying he does think the commission should do something for its staff. The tentative budget proposes an across-the-board raise of 3 percent for all County Commission and constitutional officers’ employees, although Pinkoson said he wasn’t sure what the commission will end up doing yet.

“But have no fear people out there that work for the county, we need to do something for you. I don’t know what that is, but it is my intent that we do something for the employees this year simply because you all work real hard,” he said.

Baird disagreed with Pinkoson, saying she doesn’t support across-the-board raises as a strategy in general.

Contact Morgan Watkins at 338-3104 or morgan.watkins@gainesville.com.

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