Staff emphasizes that board members will have opportunities to settle on final millage rate before approving budget on Sept. 29
It took only about 3 minutes and 30 seconds on July 14 for the Sarasota County commissioners to approve a not-to-exceed millage rate for the 2022 fiscal year that includes a 0.10 mills increase to provide dedicated funding for services through the county’s new Mental Health Care Special District.
The vote was 3-2, with Commissioners Christian Ziegler and Ron Cutsinger in the minority. Neither of them offered comments before Chair Alan Maio called the question.
During a presentation, Kim Radtke, director of the county’s Office of Financial Management, pointed out that the total proposed millage rate for the new fiscal year — which will begin on Oct. 1 — is 3.5561, which is 0.0961 mills higher than the FY 2021 figure of 3.460. The 2022 figure would be 2.78% higher than the current millage rate.
The tentative budget for the 2022 fiscal year is $1,532,863,595, a county memo noted.
The debt service for the bonds the county has issued to pay for The Legacy Trail extensions to downtown Sarasota and North Port will be down by 0.0039 mills, Radtke noted.
Additionally, according to a chart included in the agenda packet, the debt service for bonds associated with the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands Protection Program (ESLPP) will drop 6.62% from the current fiscal year figure.
Radtke reminded the commissioners that she was asking only that they approve a resolution certifying the proposed ad valorem millage rates for the next fiscal year, as well as authorization for staff to publish and mail a notice of a public hearing to consider the proposed FY 2022 non-ad valorem assessments. Most of the latter are for special districts.
The commissioners would be able to discuss the proposed new millage rate further, she added, before final adoption of the FY 2022 budget, which is scheduled for Sept. 29.
On March 24, during a budget workshop, Commissioner Michael Moran, who championed the creation of the Mental Health Care Special District, talked about the potential of a 0.10 mill increase to fund the services. “I don’t think it hurts at all” to include that, Moran said, “knowing that this board has discretion to change it.”
As a result, County Administrator Jonathan Lewis and the staff of the Office of Financial Management worked to build that extra millage into the proposed FY 2022 budget.
“I’m happy to move this forward,” Moran said on July 14, after Radtke completed her remarks, “but I want to be respectful to my other commissioners here.”
“This is the not-to-exceed rate,” Moran emphasized of the staff recommendation, along with the authorization for that rate to be published in the Truth In Millage — or TRIM — notices that the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office sends out each August.
“It’s very important,” he added, to acknowledge that the commissioners could engage in further discussion about the proposed Mental Health Care Special District millage rate during the two public hearings on the proposed FY 2022 budget. (The first is set for Sept. 13. Both will be held at the County Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in downtown Sarasota.)
When Moran asked Radtke whether he accurately had summed up the situation for the board that day, she replied, “That’s correct.”
Then Moran made the motion to approve the not-to-exceed rate, with the 0.0961 mill increase, and the authorization to advertise that and the proposed non-ad valorem assessments.
Commissioner Nancy Detert seconded the motion.
When Chair Alan Maio asked for any discussion, no one responded.
Dispute over raising the millage rate
During their late-June budget discussions for the 2022 fiscal year, commissioners indicated more debate on a millage rate for the Mental Health Care Special District would be likely before their July 14 vote.
The board members voted unanimously on June 8 to approve the district, through which the county will provide services to persons suffering with mental health and substance abuse issues. However, on June 22, Commissioners Ziegler and Cutsinger made clear their aversion to a millage rate increase to ensure dedicated funding for those services.
Ziegler emphasized that, when he campaigned for his seat in advance of the November 2018 election, he vowed that he would not raise taxes. Cutsinger offered hope that money the federal government is providing the county through the American Rescue Plan Act — for responses to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic — might pay for services offered through the district.
At that time, County Administrator Lewis pointed out that guidance staff had been getting from the U.S. Department of the Treasury on how those funds could be spent seemed to change weekly.
Commissioners also discussed the prospect of using funds from the settlement of national litigation over the manufacturing and sales of opioids to help pay for district services.
Additionally, Chair Maio pointed to the prospect that the county’s property tax values could rise higher than the preliminary level of 6.33%, which the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office released in late May.
As it turned out, the Property Appraiser’s Office’s formal July 1 report showed an uptick of 7.17% for the county.
During the June 22 discussion, both Moran and Commissioner Detert pointed to the fact that, even if they and their colleagues kept the millage rate unchanged from the total for this fiscal year, the increase in county property values would result in taxpayers contending with higher bills. Detert further noted that the county has one of the lowest millage rates in the state.
Speaking that day of the Mental Health Care Special District, Moran emphasized, “It rises above the normal competing priorities that we discuss on a daily basis.”
A day later, on June 23, Maio told his colleagues that county staff had advised him that the average residential property in the county is valued at $205,000. Therefore, he said, with the extra 0.10 mills for the district, the owner of such a house would pay an extra $20.50 per year.