By Erika Webb
The municipal Ticonderogas and calculators can rest, at least for a few months. Budgets are balanced and fiscal year 2013-14 millage rates are finalized in three West Volusia cities.
Final public hearings were conducted at the regular commission meetings in DeLand and Deltona Sept. 16. The Truth in Millage, or TRIM, Bill requires cities to announce the final ad valorem millage rate, including the percentage of increase above the rolled back rate -- the tax rate that would generate revenues for the coming year equal to those received in the current fiscal year, less new construction revenue.
Anything above the rolled-back rate results in higher taxes for property owners.
The DeLand City Commission set the FY 2013-14 operating millage rate at 7.2385 per $1,000 of taxable value, up from 7.0168 last year, and 2.97 percent higher than the rolled-back rate of 7.0299.
Total millage, including debt service set at 0.3452 mills, will be 7.5837 mills, effective Oct. 1.
DeLand Mayor Bob Apgar noted this is the first time in six fiscal years the tax rate has gone above the rolled-back rate.
He commended the commission for taking into consideration the effects of a downturned economy over the past six years and said a tax increase "can't be helped this year."
A reduction in personnel may have been necessary to achieve the rolled-back rate, Mayor Apgar said.
Instead, the city budgeted $334,367 for merit increases. An additional $131,491 is earmarked for new positions, including a Second Chance Animal Shelter program coordinator, Earl Brown Park maintenance worker and administrator as well as a finance department budget manager.
Employees will pay more for health insurance, the mayor noted.
The budget for all funds, including the Spring Hill and Downtown Community Redevelopment Areas, increased by about $7.14 million, or 15 percent, from about $47.6 million in 2012-2013 to about $54.7 million for the coming fiscal year.
The mayor said adequate sources of revenue for road maintenance will be a concern over the next few years.
Deltona's tax rate is the highest of all Volusia cities, but so is its population. The final ad valorem millage rate for FY 2013-14 is 7.99, a 4.8 percent increase from the rolled-back rate of 7.6243 mills.
Commissioner Webster Barnaby, a staunch proponent of increased and improved infrastructure, opposed the 7.99 mills, saying he preferred to establish a millage rate equal to the rolled-back rate for the sake of residents.
A motion was made by Commissioner Fred Lowry, and seconded by Commissioner Nancy Schleicher to reduce the tax rate from 7.99 mills to 7.95 mills as a gesture of "good faith."
Citing 60 percent property devaluation and the 80/20 residential-commercial ratio that has an economic chokehold on the city, Commissioner Heidi Herzberg adamantly opposed the decrease.
The average Deltona resident pays only $275 annually in taxes in exchange for police and fire protection, public works, code enforcement, parks, roads "and everything else," she noted.
"I cannot support anything other than 7.99 for this year because we simply cannot afford to do anything in this city and move ahead with infrastructure, which some of my commissioners speak dearly about," Commissioner Herzberg said. "We can't put in sidewalks. We don't have enough money to pave our roads."
Finance director Robert Clinger told commissioners the reduction, initially proposed by Commissioner Schleicher, would result in $59,000 less revenue to the city for the upcoming fiscal year.
Commissioner Herzberg asked Mr. Clinger what the savings would be per household per year.
The drop to 7.95 would save each taxpaying household $1.43 per year, Mr. Clinger said.
Commissioner Herzberg and Commissioner Chris Nabicht each said the "token" gesture would cost the city more than $59,000 in paperwork adjustments this year and would create problems when establishing next year's rolled-back rate.
"It's ridiculous," Commissioner Nabicht said.
Vice Mayor Zenaida Denizac said she was OK with the 7.99 mills, but the idea the increase would go any distance toward improving infrastructure is an "illusion."
Mayor John Masiarczyk said many serious issues have been put off for years. He cited the two resident requests totaling $250,000 -- for a FEMA study and increased code enforcement staff -- during the public participation portion of the meeting. He said elimination of nearly $60,000 in revenue in a move that would essentially prove meaningless to residents is not prudent.
"We just can't do that," Mayor Masiarczyk said.
The total citywide budget of about $130.3 million was adopted by a vote of 5-2, with Vice Mayor Denizac and Commissioner Barnaby opposed.
In a special meeting Sept. 18, the DeBary City Council voted unanimously to adopt the final ad valorem tax millage rate of 3.055 for fiscal year 2013-14. The rate adopted is 2.25 percent greater than the rolled-back rate of 2.9877.
"That is a decrease over .040 from last year," Councilman Nick Koval said. "So this council did its job to try to reduce the ad valorem rate. We understand the plight. I'm on a fixed income, too."
He went on to say the council works hard to provide essential services -- law enforcement, streets and sidewalks and storm water infrastructure -- to DeBary citizens.
"We need to maintain that infrastructure to keep the citizens and the properties they own safe from flooding conditions," Mr. Koval said.
The proposed budget of about $29.6 million -- comprised of about $15.4 million in expenditures and a fund balance of about $14.2 million expected at the end of FY 2013-14 -- also was adopted in a 4-1 vote with Mayor Bob Garcia dissenting, saying he thought the budget should have been adjusted more for economic development.
The cities of Lake Helen and Orange City had not completed the process at press time.