The millage rate for every $1,000 of assessed property value will be .99 starting October 1st. That’s over 18% higher than the roll-back rate of .83 which would have generated the same amount of revenue as the town received in the 2021-2022 fiscal year due to higher property values.
This Thursday night town council meeting was the most contentious of any previous meeting with these five members.
The reasons given for the increase were to fund the following: beach renourishment, Estero Boulevard lighting, furniture and fixtures for the new Bay Oaks building, Community Policing and “other” capital improvements.
Councilman Dan Allers took a lot of heat from Mayor Ray Murphy, Vice Mayor Rexann Hosafros and Councilman Bill Veach. Allers was poised to vote no on the millage increase. He said everything was hitting residents all at the same time, one thing after another, higher fees, increased parking rates, a short-term rental hike, inflation and now a millage increase.
What makes the budget discussion even more interesting is that the State Legislature has set up the municipality budget process in a way that if one council member votes against a millage increase it has to come down a certain percentage from the max rate on the table. If two members vote against the max rate increase, that percentage must come down even more.
If Allers voted no, the percentage drop amounted to about $56,000. Allers wanted the council to make those cuts from the Bay Oaks fixture and furniture budget.And that led to an hour long fight over Community Policing. Here’s why…
Hosafross, Veach and Murphy told Allers they were compromising by allowing Community Policing, something Allers and Atterholt want badly. And, if Allers was going to vote against the budget, forcing the max rate down, they would pull Community Policing on him. But if that happened, councilman Jim Atterholt said he would not vote for the increase, which would have cut the vote to 3-2, therefore forcing the millage rate even lower (according to the state formula), putting other projects in jeopardy of being funded.
Murphy told Allers, “You want your cake and eat it too. You’ve gotten everything you’ve asked for and you haven’t given up anything. We’ve all bent here. We’re bending and you’re not.” Allers said he took offense when Murphy accused him of not giving up anything. “I’ve waited two years for Community Policing.” He also told the three of them he wasn’t going to be bullied.
Murphy didn’t let up. “Noone has compromised more than me. I’m the big compromiser here. I didn’t want the lighting at all. I still don’t believe that a town should light a county road. I don’t believe it. I agree with councilman Veach. I’m not convinced about community policing, not at all, but I’m willing to give it a shot since it’s for the greater good. I don’t agree with it but I’m willing to do it for the greater good so there’s your compromise. I’m directing that to you Dan.
Hosafross said, “Why should all of us have to move for you? If you stand your ground, you could lose Community Policing.”
Veach accused Allers of being disingenuous.
Murphy, Hosafross and Veach were not going to give on the Bay Oaks fixtures. Allers, worried that he was going to lose Community Policing, gave in at the end and voted for the maximum millage increase of .99.
Once the millage increase was approved, the council then voted to approve the 2022-2023 budget. The only budget put forth by town manager Roger Hernstadt was a budget based on a millage of .99. He did not provide the council with any other options. He told them if the millage was lower, they would have to make cuts.
When the public comment period opened on the budget, Mayor Ray Murphy sarcastically blurted out “of course,” when candidate John King approached the microphone to use his 3 minutes to object to the tax increase.