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By Brian Ackley
City of Lake Wales 

City Considers Budget with Small Tax Cut, Increase to Fire Fee

 

Last updated 9/8/2020 at 10:21am



Lake Wales City commissioners are looking to reduce or eliminate a small increase in the city’s fire fee when the first reading and public hearing on a proposed 2020-21 budget is held on Sept. 9.

The overall plan totals $47.9 million – and actually trims the city’s millage rate to the rollback figure of $6.9747 per $1,000 in assessed valuation – which included a five percent increase in the city’s fire fee assessment. The residential cost was projected to rise $16 a year, from the current $146 to $162 annually.

But commissioners want to scale that back, in part because revenue projections are a little stronger than first projected.

Lake Wales Finance Director Dorothy Abbott originally estimated the city would need to use about $288,000 in general fund reserves to balance the proposed spending plan. That original blueprint, however, contained just an estimate of what state revenue the city would likely receive in the new fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

“I’m pleased to say they came in a little bit more than I projected which is just wonderful,” Abbott said.

In the new plan, only about $150,000 in reserve funds would be needed to balance the budget. The consensus of commissioners was to lower the fire fee increase, to perhaps just $8, or keep the fee the same.

Abbott said the original five percent increase would raise about $244,000 in new funding for the fire department.

The city had a general fund reserve fund of approximately $3.1 million at the end of the last fiscal year, and using a small portion of it to cover the entire proposed fee increase would still leave the city well within its guidelines of having a general fund balance that represents 15 to 20 percent of annual general fund spending," she said.

“Every department cut back exactly where they could. Anything they could cut they did cut,” Abbott added about the proposal.

Commissioner Al Goldstein said he would like to send the right message to residents and businesses.

“I’m just trying to say to our constituents ‘hey we’re not taking your money when we don’t need it.’” he noted.

Commissioner Curtis Gibson said he would potentially like to see more cuts, including a possible 10 percent reduction in funding for groups that the city supports.

“We need to take a closer look at how outside groups are spending city funds and make sure they are in full compliance with their contracts,” he said. “If we're cutting $1 million or more in our city budget, I think we have to look across the board, and I think that is fair.”

The public hearing will be held in city hall commission chambers at 6 p.m. on Sept. 9. Limited, socially-distanced seating will be available, and the meeting will be available via the “live meeting stream” link on the city’s home page at http://www.lakewalesfl.gov.

 

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