Commissioners Consider Balanced Budget with Slight Property Tax Reduction
Last updated 8/14/2019 at 2:24pm
Lake Wales City Commissioners got their first look Tuesday at a proposed balanced budget for 2019-20 that includes a slight reduction in the property tax rate.
Finance Director Dorothy Abbott told commissioners that the city is in good financial shape and staff feels comfortable recommending a millage rate of 6.9339, or approximately $6.93 for every $1,000 of taxable property value. This is considered the "rollback rate" that based upon anticipated growth can be expected to generate the same amount of tax revenue as this year.
The 2018-19 rate is 7.0438, or about $7.04 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The reduction means a person with a home valued at $100,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would see a tax break of about $6.49.
The latest draft budget wasn't available until Monday and some of the commissioners didn't receive it before Tuesday's workshop. Abbott reminded them that they have nearly a month before the first budget hearing Sept. 10 to get any questions answered. The draft budget and proposed 5-year Capital Improvement plan are available on the city website at http://www.lakewalesfl.gov.
Abbott pointed out that the city expects its reserves to be about $2.2 million when the new budget takes effect Oct. 1. But she said the proposed budget calls for tapping into that reserve to cover about $1.7 million in capital projects, which could take the reserve down to about $500,000.
Deputy Mayor Robin Gibson said while he trusted the judgment of Abbott and City Manager Ken Fields, the significant lowering of the city's reserves concerns him. The total capital budget for 2019-20 is about $16 million so he wanted to know which projects were included in the $1.7 million that would come from reserves. Abbott said she would generate that list for commissioners to review.
Fields said to get to a balanced operating budget he asked each department head to cut 1.5 percent. Abbott said items that were on department head "wish lists" also got the ax. Fields removed his request for a $63,000 per year public information officer, which would have cost $82,000 with benefits. Some requested capital items, such as the $28,000 utility vehicle for the airport originally referred to as a "golf cart," were pushed out a year.
The first of two budget public hearings will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 10 and the second and final hearing is set for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 24, both at the city administration building.