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Town manager releases preliminary budget

August 23, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

The Town of Fort Myers Beach is gearing up for the 2017-2018 fiscal year budget talks.

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt released the preliminary budget to the council on Monday. It is also posted online for residents to view.

"We're building off the budget you approved last year," Hernstadt said. "If you have an issue with something from last year, put it on the discussion list."

Hernstadt gained council approval in June to start working on the preliminary budget with a millage rate of .9 mills. Once he set that preliminary millage, the final millage cannot exceed .9.

Last year's millage was frozen at .8, the same as the two years previous. Former interim Town Manager Jim Steele worked to convince the council to pass an increase of .865, but the council voted to keep it at .8. This year, they allowed the additional wiggle room just for the preliminary work on Hernstadt's first budget for the town.

"One of the most important things I do is prepare a budget for your consideration," he said.

The town's millage, even if raised to .9, would be lower than the county's, which was 4.05 mills for the 2016-2017 year and the Fort Myers Beach Fire District, set at 2.58 mills.

If the town keeps the .8 millage, it will gain $121,130 from increased property values.

A mill is the figure representing the amount per $1,000 of assessed property value used to figure at what rate a property owner must pay in property tax. If a property's net value is $100,000, an increase of the millage rate from .8 to .9 would mean an additional $10 on that property's annual tax bill.

According to Hernstadt's spreadsheets, raising the millage from .8 to .9 would give the town an additional $448,417 in revenue from ad valorem taxes to add into the budget, with a total levied tax revenue of approximately $2.6 million. A 1.0 millage would bring in $2.9 million, and a 1.06 millage would make $3.5 million.

Fort Myers Beach resident Ceel Spuhler returned to the podium this year to gently recommend that the council to move the millage up to .9 mills.

"The millage rate you will determine determines the financial health of our town and the vital necessities required to keep our island functioning," she said during public comment Monday.

Spuhler was one of several residents who advocated for an increase during last year's budget talks, too. According to her calculations, if the town increased the budget to .9, her annual tax bill would be $195, compared to $697 she pays to the fire departments for its needs. After watching the Tuesday, Aug. 15, strategic planning meeting, Spuhler said the town needs more funds to do its "wonderful" projects.

"My concern is the council will keep the same rate of last year and not heed to the recommendation of our present and former town manager of .9," she said.

In a previous Observer story, Hernstadt said the council was operating "hand to mouth" and that he hoped to help establish a financially stable budget for the town to operate from, including Steele's mission to make sure the town has adequate reserves - a rule of thumb of 90 days of operating money in the case of a disaster or hurricane.

Hernstadt's other goal is setting up a long-term captial improvement program and a funding source for that program. He reiterated the need for this outlook into the town's needs at Monday's meeting.

"I'm most concerned with the lack of an ongoing, long-term CIP with a funding plan," he said. "I'll be making recommendations to you on that: one of the biggest things we need to consider is what our assets are and how we'll take care of them."

The preliminary budget still includes the Bay Oaks Recreational Campus operating budget; Lee County has engaged the town on a fact-finding mission to potentially take back the campus operations after giving it to the town in 2009. However, since those talks are still ongoing, Hernstadt included one of the town's major line items in the spreadsheet.

This year's Bay Oaks budget was listed at a potential $1.2 million, up from $883,377 last year. A majority of the increases here are seen in BORC's salaries and overtime pay.

The council will be working on the budget at the Thursday, Aug. 24 planning and management meeting, beginning at 9 a.m. The first budget hearing is set for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, and the final hearing is 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 21.



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