Public Service Tax hearing to be part of county budget meeting on Sept. 26 in Sarasota

5% would be added to residential electric, water, gas and L.P. gas bills

Editor’s note: This story was updated late in the morning of Sept. 15 to provide new information about the hearing date for the Public Service Tax.

A chart shows how Sarasota County municipalities are making use of the Public Service Tax. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Because of Hurricane Irma, the Sarasota County Commission has postponed its first set of public hearings on the proposed 2018 fiscal year budget until Sept. 18.

Originally, the session was set for Sept. 11. However, all county offices were closed that day in the aftermath of the storm’s passage through the area.

The Sept. 18 session will begin at 5:30 p.m. at the Robert L. Anderson Administration Center, which is located at 4000 S. Tamiami Trail in Venice.

One of the Sept. 11 hearings was supposed to focus on the proposed implementation of a 5% Public Service Tax on water, electricity, L.P. gas, manufactured gas and metered natural gas consumption by residents in the unincorporated parts of Sarasota County. However, county spokesman Drew Winchester said that hearing will be postponed until the second reading of the budget, which will be on Sept. 26 in Sarasota. Winchester wrote The Sarasota News Leader in a Sept. 15 email, “When the first [budget hearing was cancelled and moved to [Sept. 18], the PST [Public Service Tax hearing was] removed since it requires a longer advertising notice. While [the] PST may come up at Monday’s [public hearing], the ordinance will not be considered.”

The County Commission agreed in June not to raise the millage rate, though many property owners will pay higher ad valorem taxes because of increases in their property values. The proposed millage rate is 3.3912.

The commissioners tentatively agreed on June 20 that the county will need the estimated $10.8 million per year from the Public Service Tax to keep the county budget in the black, at least through the next couple of fiscal years.

The board formally voted 4-1 on Aug. 21 to proceed with the hearing on the tax. Only Commissioner Michael Moran opposed it, saying he believes the board should have called for operating cuts instead.

Just a week later, during a regular meeting, Commissioner Nancy Detert questioned whether enough of her colleagues would approve implementation of the tax to put it into effect. In June, she argued for a millage rate, citing the fact that Sarasota’s rate is one of the lowest in the state, and board members kept it low during the Great Recession to afford property owners a better opportunity to recover from the economic downturn.

A Sept. 11 staff memo to the board explains that Chapter 166.231 of the Florida Statutes allows for the levy of the Public Service Tax, which cannot be higher than 10%. Because of provisions in the state law, Deputy County Administrator and Chief Financial Management Officer Steve Botelho explained in June, if the tax is approved, it cannot be implemented until April 1. In the six months it would be in effect during FY18, he added, it would be expected to generate about $5.4 million.

The Sept. 11 memo does point out that the “first 500 kilowatt hours of electricity purchased for residential use each month” will be exempt from taxation.

“The estimated monthly impact of a 5% PST [Public Service Tax] on an average [Florida Power & Light Co] residential customer (using 1,152 kilowatt hours per month) and assuming an exemption on the first 500 kilowatt hours is $3.20,” the memo continues. “The estimated monthly impact of a 5% PST on an average residential water customer (using 4,000 gallons of water per month) is $1.30.”

A chart shows details of the tentative General Fund budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The total tentative FY18 budget is $1,131,424,334, according to the agenda packet for the Sept. 18 meeting.

Staff projects that the revenue from property taxes — which go into the county’s General Fund — will be $149,876,342 in the 2018 fiscal year, making up 51% of that fund. The 2017 figure was $138,297,666 in the adopted budget, which will continue through Sept. 30.

The Capital Funds account total for the FY18 budget is projected at $211,562,789, with $108,839,375 appropriated for a variety of projects to improve county structures and facilities.

A graphic shows details of the tentative Capital Funds budget for the 2018 fiscal year. Image courtesy Sarasota County

The countywide taxable property value for the 2018 fiscal year is $54.6 billion, still below the pre-recession high of $62.7 billion, which was in the 2008 fiscal year. At its lowest point over the past decade, in FY13, the countywide property value was $39.1 billion.

The second public hearing on the budget, including the hearing on the Public Service Tax, is scheduled for Sept. 26 at the County Administration Center located at 1660 Ringling Blvd. in Sarasota.