City commissioners vote 3-2 to hold off on millage rate decision until after staff takes harder look at potential budget cuts, including number of new employees

Staff proposes increase of 0.0905 mills to cover expense of taking over five parks from Sarasota County

A bar chart shows the changes in City of Sarasota employee figures over the past several years. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

It took about an hour and 48 minutes during a special meeting on June 27 for the Sarasota city commissioners to vote 3-2 on a motion directing administrative staff to undertake a more thorough review of the proposed budget for the 2019 fiscal year, with a focus on additional savings.

Only after that analysis has been completed — and the board has been able to review the results — will the commission make a decision on the not-to-exceed millage rate for the next fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1.

Commissioner Shelli Freeland Eddie made the motion. When Commissioner Hagen Brody suggested a friendly amendment directing staff to go ahead and remove a “placeholder” amount of $250,000 for a new body camera/vehicle camera program for the Sarasota Police Department, Freeland Eddie declined to accept it. She told Brody she did not want to make a decision on that expense until after she had heard more details about research into concerns the board and Police Chief Bernadette DiPino discussed during DiPino’s June 26 budget presentation. (See the related story in this issue.)

Brody then seconded Freeland Eddie’s motion, and Mayor Liz Alpert supported it. Vice Mayor Jen Ahearn-Koch and Commissioner Willie Shaw voted “No.”

A graphic offers more details about proposed new personnel in the city for the 2019 fiscal year. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

City administrative staff has proposed a millage increase of 0.0905 for the 2019 fiscal year, which would increase the property tax bill by $18.10 a year for the owner of a home valued at $200,000, Kelly Strickland, the city’s financial administration director, told the city commissioners on June 26.

The millage rate would rise from 3.1728 to 3.2633. Based on the June 1 property value estimate, the value of 1 mill is $10,103,975, according to a chart Strickland showed the board.

During the first day of the city’s two budget workshops this week — held on June 26 and June 27 — Brody was the only board member to voice objections to the proposed millage increase. He said he preferred budget cuts instead.

The primary reason for the recommendation to raise the millage rate is the fact that, under the terms of a new interlocal agreement with Sarasota County, the city will have to take over operations and maintenance of five city parks that the county previously managed, Strickland noted.

In the Executive Summaryhe provided for the 2019 fiscal year budget materials, City Manager Tom Barwin pointed out that that transition will add about $2 million to city expenses each year. That was based on county information provided to the city, Deputy City Manager Marlon Brown said during the city board’s special meeting on the afternoon of June 27.

Graphics provide details about proposed expenditures from the city’s General Fund. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

However, Brown noted, the city would expect to receive $300,000 to $320,000 a year in revenue from those five parks, assuming user fees stayed the same.

During the special meeting on June 27, Brody characterized the staff call for a millage rate increase as “PR spin on what we’re doing.” He pointed out that city property owners paid more in ad valorem taxes last year and will do so again this year, with property values having increased again. “I think we can go back and get a budget that fits the additional revenue.”

“If we had not gotten the parks back, this would have been a balanced budget,” Mayor Liz Alpert pointed out. “It is the addition of the parks which put a hugestrain on our budget that wasn’t anticipated.”

“Nobody wants to raise taxes,” Alpert added, “but this is a modest amount …”

Commissioner Willie Shaw also noted that if the board members set the millage rate at the level staff had proposed, they still would be able to reduce that before they cast their final votes on the budget in September.

Freeland Eddie told her colleagues she was not prepared to make a decision on the millage rate until she was certain staff had taken a harder look at the potential for cuts.

The parks transfer

In late November 2017, Sarasota County administrative staff suggested the County Commission send letters to each of the municipalities, giving notice of the potential for early termination of interlocal agreements with them for operation and maintenance involving their parks. If the notifications were not delivered to the municipalities by Dec. 1 — as provided for in the agreements — then the county would not be able to halt its funding support for those facilities in the 2019 fiscal year, then incoming Interim County Administrator Jonathan Lewis explained.

The step was seen as a measure the County Commission needed to take as it was struggling with balancing its FY19 budget.

A graphic shows details about projected General Fund revenues for the 2019 fiscal year. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

As a result of the ensuing negotiations with county staff, the facilities the City of Sarasota will be taking over from the county are Centennial Park, Ken Thompson Park, the Payne Park Tennis Center, Arlington Park and Aquatic Facility, and the lawn bowling grounds, which have been located on the bayfront. Discussions have been taking place between city staff and representatives of the Sarasota Lawn Bowling Clubabout relocating its activities to Payne Park.

The County Commission is scheduled to vote during its regular meeting on July 12 on providing an allocation of $881,682 to the city for each of the next three fiscal years to help the city make the transition, Strickland told the city commissioners.

The city will need 14 new full-time employees and 14 part-time positions to handle the additional parks operations and upkeep, she pointed out. The net cost of those positions for the 2019 fiscal year, she added, is $914,546.

More budget details

A chart shows details about the proposed FY19 city budget. Image courtesy City of Sarasota

Altogether, personnel costs make up 74% — $54,196,435 — of the proposed FY19 budget, Strickland said, as 22 few full-time positions have been requested by the departments. A number of those positions, though, will be covered by revenue other than that from the General Fund, she noted.

That total expenditures from the General Fund are projected to be $73,045,431 in FY19, which is an increase of $6.2 million compared to the amount in the current budget, Strickland noted.

The General Fund is made up largely of property tax revenue (45%), though other funds — including state revenue sharing allocations and revenue from the city’s 10% Public Service Tax on use of electricity, water and bottled gas — go into that fund, too.

The preliminary property value increase for the city for this year is up 8.73%, Kelly noted, which translates into an extra $3,443,647. The final value is due by July 1, she told the commissioners. In years past, it has proven higher than the preliminary figure.

For the 2008 fiscal year, Strickland pointed out, the assessed property value was $10.4 billion; for FY19, it is $10.5 billion.

The total proposed FY19 budget is $229,664,549, an increase from $202,429,733 in the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30.

Other factors built into the budget, Strickland continued, are the $688,000 expense of bringing the recycling and bulk waste and yard waste collections in-house. That initiative is expected to save the city approximately $200,000 a year, compared to the expense it incurred by contracting for that work.

A 3% increase in salaries is built into the budget, as well, Strickland noted. That will cost $421,189, she said.