Polk County residents may be facing an increase in property tax if the proposed Fiscal Year 2014-2015 budget is approved by the Board of County Commissioners, who were pitched the budget by County Manager Jim Freeman at the July 15 work session. The total budget is assessed at $1,264,699,276.
Combined with revenues and expenditures, the proposed budget is an increase of 34 percent — $4,254,039, from this year’s budget of $1,260,445,237. It includes infrastructure; fire service; landfill operations; water/wastewater bills; Fleet/IT/Health Insurance; other fee-based funds; grant fund; and general fund. Freeman has called for decrease in five of those eight categories.
Freeman has projected an increase of $6,836,747 into the general fund, to raise the budgeted revenue from $129,654,430 to $136.491,177. Other countywide increases called for are environmental lands and transportation. Combined, the rise in revenue will total $165,396,040 (up $8,284,569).
All of this calls for no increase in the current millage rate of 6.8665 (per $1,000) countywide. The unincorporated millage rate, which covers the MSTUs for parks, libraries and stormwater, is 7.5993; an MSTU is a Municipal Service Taxing Unit, a funding mechanism to create, through approval of the BOCC a special taxing district to make improvements to a neighborhood and/or community area and/or providing additional services based on community desires.
The only increase in the millage rate is for the Rancho Bonito MTSU. It currently is 9.2672 and Freeman wants it increased to 10.000. Rancho Bonito is an area that borders Pasco County and has long been troublesome. Complaints have ranged from noise, illegal dumping to drug trafficking, gunfire and explosions. The increase in the MTSU would go toward increased law enforcement by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office as well as provide other improvements to the area.
The proposed budget also calls for a 2 percent COLA (cost of living adjustment) for county employees and would take effect Oct. 1. There currently are 1,943 employees.
According to a strategic business plan, justifications for the increases in the proposed budget (partially) include:
• Environmental Lands — In 1994, voters OK’d a 20-year referendum providing up to .2000 mills for debt service to purchase environmentally sensitive lands. This sunsets FY 2014/15.
• Utility Funds — A 5 percent annual increase (indexing) on fees for water/wastewater/reclaimed water sunsets Oct. 1, 2015. Regulatory requirements to develop alternative water supply projects will significantly increase costs to produce potable water.
• Fire Rescue — This fund will be out of balance without either a rate increase or service level reductions by FY 2015/16.
• Transportation Trust Fund — Due to declines in fuel tax and property tax, in addition to a moratorium on impact fees, transportation revenues have been affected. Residents will decide in the November 2014 referendum whether to approve a 1 cent surtax. If OK’d, the BOCC would be allowed to eliminate a 1 mill property tax.
• Indigent Healthcare Fund — The county’s half-cent sales tax sunsets in 2019 and requires voter approval to continue. If it sunsets or is not OK’d by voters, a funding source will be needed to cover at least the minimum mandated costs.
There will be three further meetings prior to the First Public Hearing, which is scheduled for Sept. 8, and the Final Public Hearing, set for Sept. 15. The first of the three meetings will be the Finance Committee meeting on Aug. 5. That will be followed by a Board work session with the Budget Committee and Outside Agencies. The third meeting will be a work session regarding the Capital Improvement Plan. CIP is a short-range plan, usually four to 10 years, which identifies capital projects and equipment purchases, provides a planning schedule and identifies options for financing the plan.
Public hearings are scheduled for next year’s budget at 6 p.m. on Sept. 8 and Sept. 15. It is to take effect Oct. 1.