After releasing a proposed 13% ad valorem tax increase last Thursday, then meeting with several Town Council members over the weekend, Fort Myers Beach Finance Director Joe Onzick sharpened his pencil to find enough cuts to keep the millage rate from increasing.
On Tuesday Onzick told council members the town would be losing $3.2 million in revenue; $1.7 million from a drop in ad valorem taxes due to a drastic decrease in assessed property values on the island, and $1.6 million in lost parking revenue. There were also expense increases including $491,000 in liability insurance, $134,000 in personnel costs and $125,000 in health insurance. The net result of Onzick’s budget was a shortfall of approximately $342,000 which led to a staff recommendation of a 13% increase in your millage rate.
After meeting with council members over the last 4 days, and hearing from the community, Onzick came prepared Tuesday with alternatives in an effort to help the council keep the millage rate the same. Those options include taking $210,000 from community policing which is in the budget. They can also consider not using $500,000 for Estero Boulevard lighting which has been taken care of, in part, by FPL. The town is also hoping the state will fund the remainder of the amber lights on Estero. And the town has some flexible funding available from money awarded to the town in the American Rescue Plan.
Earlier this month Lee County Tax Appraiser Matt Caldwell released the estimated tax roll figures for 2023. Out of all Lee County municipalities, Fort Myers Beach will take the biggest hit. The total taxable value of properties on Fort Myers Beach in 2022 was $4.5 Billion. In 2023 that number is estimated to be $2.7 Billion, a 40% drop. New taxable construction on Fort Myers Beach in 2022 was $44 Million. New construction is estimated to be $861,000 in 2023. The end result of those decreases is fewer tax dollars into the Fort Myers Beach budget. The county will release the Final Property Values for 2023 on or before July 1.
The current millage rate for Fort Myers Beach residents is .99 per $1,000 of assessed property value. Town staff wanted to raise that rate to 1.12 mills to cover the increase in expenditures, which would have been a 13% increase.
After hearing Onzick’s presentation and his conclusion that “there is very little risk to next year’s budget” if the millage rate were to remain at .99, the council voted 4-1 to keep the rate at .99. Mayor Dan Allers voted against keeping the rate at .99 wanting the council to have the flexibility if something were to happen down the road.
A tentative millage rate must be submitted to the County Property Appraiser prior to August 4th. Once the tentative millage rate has been set it cannot be increased, only reduced.