County Commission approves ‘not-to-exceed’ countywide millage rate of 3.46 for next fiscal year

0.0269 increase from 2020 millage rate a result of debt service on Legacy Trail bonds

This chart shows details of the proposed county millage rates for the 2021 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1. Image courtesy Sarasota County

It took only about 3 minutes on July 8 for the Sarasota County Commission to give unanimous approval to the “not-to-exceed” overall millage rate for the 2021 fiscal year, which will begin on Oct. 1.

The authorization was necessary for the mailing of the Truth in Millage (TRIM) notices, which go out in August.

Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, pointed out that the total countywide millage is up 0.0269 mills because of the voter-approved bonds for the extensions of The Legacy Trail to downtown Sarasota and into North Port. (See the related article in this issue.)

During the November 2018 General Election, more than 70% of the voters who marked their ballots on The Legacy Trail referendum approved the issuance of bonds up to $65 million for all the improvements on the former CSX Transportation railroad corridor.

Because a second set of bonds was issued in February, Radtke’s chart showed that the debt service on the Legacy Trail bonds would increase 64.2% for the 2021 fiscal year.

The county’s general operating millage rate, as proposed, would increase 0.23% from the rate for the current fiscal year, while the debt service millage for the Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program would fall 4.86% year-over-year.

The millage for the Mosquito Control District would be 1.92% lower, a chart noted.

Radtke described the General Operating, ESLPP and Mosquito Control millage rates as flat for the next fiscal year.

The adopted total countywide millage rate for the 2020 fiscal year was 3.4331; for FY 2021, it has been proposed at 3.46.

The board will hold its two public hearings on its FY 2021 budget on Sept. 14 and Sept. 23, she added. Before final passage of the budget, she indicated, the commissioners could vote to lower the total millage rate, if they wished.

“I just want to be very, very clear that we are not raising the millage rate,” Commissioner Christian Ziegler told Radtke, referring to himself and his fellow board members. The voters were the ones who approved the issuance of bonds for The Legacy Trail, he added, “to basically tax themselves to carry out that project.”

Radtke confirmed that.

Commissioner Nancy Detert made the motion to approve the not-to-exceed millage rate, and Ziegler seconded it.

“It’s still very, very low,” Detert said of the rate, “and its about half of what Manatee [County’s rate] is, I think.”

In recent years, the Sarasota County millage rate has been among the lowest in the state, county staff has reported.

“It’s just great to live in Sarasota County,” Ziegler added after Detert offered her comments. The low millage rate is another inducement for people to move into the county, he said, along with the No. 1 beach on Siesta Key.

Stephen Leatherman of Florida International University in Miami, who is known worldwide as Dr. Beach, has honored Siesta Beach with that U.S. title twice in the past decade.

Even without the extra millage for The Legacy Trail initiatives, county property owners would have been looking at higher bills this year. That is because the county property tax value climbed about 5.1% from 2019, as Deputy County Administrator and Chief Financial Management Officer Steve Botelho has noted.

The commission will conduct its final workshop on the 2021 fiscal year budget on Aug. 31, Radtke said.

A graphic staff showed the board during a July 1 budget workshop pointed out that the county would have received an extra $896 million in property tax revenue since the 2000 fiscal year, if boards had kept the millage rate at the 4.57 mills levied in FY 2000.

Further, the chart showed, if the millage had remained flat since the 2007 fiscal year — when it was 3.69 mills — the county would have received an extra $210 million.

A graph shows details about the county’s millage rates and revenue over the past two decades. Image courtesy Sarasota County

As of July 1, when the board began two days of in-depth budget discussions, the proposed General Fund for the 2021 fiscal year was $322,928,975, up 2.6% from the total for the current fiscal year.

The General Fund is made up of property tax revenue, along with revenue from a half-cent sales tax, a Florida Power & Light Co. franchise fee, state revenue sharing and a Communications Services Tax. Because of the downturn in the economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, Office of Financial Management staff has projected that the total revenue from those sources will drop 3.8%, compared to the amount staff had projected before the public health emergency began.

‘The General Fund covers the operations of all county departments that do not generate any income of their own, and it pays for the functions of departments led by elected officials such as the sheriff and the supervisor of elections — the so-called “constitutional officers.”

Overall, the proposed FY 2021 budget is $1,317,498,287, county documents show.