“Another tax increase is in the works” – An opinion

By Patti Clifford
July 12, 2020

Another tax increase is in the works for City residents and businesses. Last year at a budget workshop, I spoke out about the double whammy tax increase – the .5 mill for conservation on top of an 11% increase over the rollback rate for the “base” millage rate.

This year it is just a single whammy, but another tax increase none the less. If the millage rate “holds” at 5.8553, it will be advertised as a 10.2% increase over the rollback rate. Are you getting a 10.2% raise?

Comparable property values are up again, +6.4%. This means our millage rate should be going down. Additionally, the City has NEW properties valued at approximately $74 million that will be taxed for the first time in FY 2020/2021. At the FY 2020/2021 rollback rate, 5.31 mills, these new properties will generate and additional $377,000 in NEW taxes for the City (using a 96% collection rate). At the higher proposed rate, 5.8553, they will generate more than $415,000.

Some questions to ponder:
• How have we gotten here?
• When was the last time the City lived within its means (the rollback rate) and actually budgeted and collected taxes based on the rollback rate?
• Why is the rollback rate not enough?
• What will it take for City government to go back to the rollback rate?

Some thoughts:
• I remember a time when the City boasted of going to the rollback rate for six straight years. I believe that was more than six years ago.
• What happened in the General Fund during the past six years?
o Full time employees in the General Fund went from 139 in FY 2016/2017 to 160.5 in FY 2019/2020
o 2 hurricanes
o Numerous studies and surveys
• What can be done?
o Ask “What specific increases in services did we get for the additional 20 full time staffers in the General Fund?” Ask if the number of employees can decrease in FY 2020/2021. A hiring freeze perhaps.
o Can we do with fewer vehicles? Can we postpone purchasing some vehicles?
o Are there capital projects that can be eliminated from the Five-Year Capital Improvement Plan?
• Are there other sources of revenue the General Fund can generate and take some of the tax burden off residents and our businesses?

What can YOU do?
• Email or call the City Manager and the Commissioners tell them the years of tax increases needs to STOP.

Editor’s Note:  Patti Clifford retired as Comptroller for the City of Fernandina Beach in 2018.

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