County Commission splits 3-2 on proposed millage rates

Steve Botelho (right), Sarasota County’s interim chief financial planning officer, confers with another staff member during a budget workshop in June. Photo by Norman Schimmel

With Chairwoman Christine Robinson and Commissioner Jon Thaxton voting “No,” the Sarasota County Commission on July 11 approved not-to-exceed millage rates for advertisement in advance of public hearings on the 2013 fiscal year budget.

The biggest increase in the rates this year would be for mosquito control, with the rate climbing from 0.0277 mills in FY 2012 to 0.0805 mills in FY 2013, an increase of 290.61%.

The other rates proposed for FY 2013 are 3.1530 mills for the general operating fund — an increase of 2.56% over FY 2012 — and the debt service rate, which was set tentatively at 0.1577, a decrease of 33.26% from FY 2012.

The total proposed millage is 3.3912, up 1.58% from FY 2012.

Steve Botelho, the county’s interim chief financial planning officer, noted that Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst had certified the county tax roll as of July 1. As reported earlier, the rate was down 1.1% over the previous year, though the original county forecast was for a 4% drop.

Botelho then showed the commissioners a chart to point out they had started reducing the mosquito control millage rate in 2002, “since the fund balance was accumulating” so much money.

Money was transferred from that general fund balance to the mosquito account to supplement the tax income, he noted.

By increasing the mosquito millage rate this year, Botelho, “we’re just really putting that where it needs to be.”

The change should add only about $10 to the tax bill of the owner of a $200,000 house, Botelho added.

Nonetheless, Robinson and Thaxton have voiced disapproval of the increase, especially in light of financial difficulties county residents have faced since the start of the Great Recession.

During the July 11 meeting, Commissioner Joe Barbetta said of the mosquito control millage, “This has been artificially low for seven years now, eight years. … We’re bringing it partway back to make the mosquito account partway whole.”

Commissioner Nora Patterson said, “We could have been irresponsible. … We could have accumulated millions of dollars in that [general] fund and just kept it there …”

Instead, she said the commission gave taxpayers a break in the mosquito millage rate.

She added of that rate, “It’s just basically a fee for service.”

The County Commission will hold its final budget workshop on Aug. 20. The two required public hearings on the budget — one each in South and North County — have been scheduled for Sept. 10 and Sept. 24.