By Erika Webb
Orange City and Lake Helen were the last West Volusia cities to finalize their 2013-14 millage rates and budgets.
Orange City's City Council voted unanimously Sept. 24 to adopt a millage rate of 7.59 mills -- $7.59 per $1,000 of taxable value. The rate represents an ad valorem tax increase of 5.03 percent above the 7.2265 rolled-back rate -- the tax rate that would generate the same amount of ad valorem revenue as was generated in the prior year -- but less than a 1 percent increase over the current millage rate of 7.51.
The council adopted the $10,173,443 general fund budget by a 6-1 vote.
Orange City Finance Director Christine Davis said the adopted general fund budget decreased $352,750, or 3.4 percent, from the prior fiscal year.
Orange City's tax increase is the highest of all five West Volusia cities.
"We are beginning to see signs of economic recovery, which is reflected in the 5.2 percent growth we experienced this year in taxable values," Ms. Davis stated in a memo. "This was the first increase in six years. Orange City has much to be both grateful for and proud of economically speaking."
A national report (by RealtyTrac) identified the city as the 14th best retirement spot for real estate investing in the country, she said.
The 2013 average taxable home value in Orange City is $42,237, an increase of $2,236 over last year's value, Ms. Davis reported.
With the current millage rate of 7.51, the average homeowner would pay $317.20 annually or $26.43 monthly, she added.
With the adopted millage rate of 7.59, the average homeowner would pay $320.58 annually or $26.72 monthly, Ms. Davis said.
At a special meeting Sept. 25, the Lake Helen City Commission unanimously adopted a total budget of $2,765,458 for FY 2013-14.
The mayor and commissioners also voted unanimously to adopt the FY 2013-14 millage rate of 6.3685, 2.81 percent above the 6.1943 rolled-back rate.
In Lake Helen, the average taxable value for residential is the same for 2013 as it was for 2012 -- $46,500, according to the property appraiser's office.
In 2012, the average homeowner paid $292.17. That same property owner will pay $296.14 under the newly adopted millage rate.
When added to the rate of 3.6315 mills for fire services, provided by Volusia County, the adopted millage does not tip over the 10 mills cap set by the state.
That's what the commission was aiming for.
The originally advertised tentative millage rate was 7.4278 -- more than 19 percent above the rolled-back rate.
The commission considered the potential for the state to consider the combined city and fire services millage to be over the state-set cap and potentially fine the city.
There is no definitive ruling on whether or not the state would consider that scenario an infraction, Mayor Buddy Snowden said in a phone interview after the meeting, but the commission preferred to avoid taking the chance.
"We're also sensitive to the impact of higher taxes on the citizens of Lake Helen," Mayor Snowden said, adding the 10 mills cap offered a way to excuse creating a lower tax rate.
Property owners would have been looking at taxes around 17 percent higher for the coming year than they will pay at the lower rate adopted by the commission.
Commissioner Vernon Burton explained during the public hearing that under state law -- Truth in Millage -- a taxing authority must advertise proposed rates and that adopted rates may be set lower, but not higher than the originally advertised rate.
Commissioner Rick Basso said the amount paid to the county for fire services is greater than one-third of Lake Helen's total budget.
"That's significant and that we have to have a talk about," Commissioner Basso said.
The commission also voted unanimously to adopt a five year capital improvement program for FY 2014-2018. The proposed expenditures -- totaling $2,050,986 -- comprise what Mayor Buddy Snowden called, "a glorified wish list" and are not set in stone.
Several projects originally slated for FY 2013-14 were pushed back to accommodate the lower than originally anticipated millage rate.
Commissioner Ann Robbins questioned the proposed purchase -- in 2016 -- of a $45,000 slope mower.
"It's very hard to justify an expenditure of that magnitude," Commissioner Robbins said.
Discussion ensued about the recent mowing of McKenzie Road by a local contractor for $300 and how many times $300 can be divided into $45,000.
Ms. Robbins acknowledged the entire city would be mowed with the slope mower as opposed to "one section of one road one time," but said street improvements are more important to her than mowing.
"It's very imperative that this coming year this commission acts monthly on our expenditures and keeps very close track," Ms. Robbins added at the adoption of the budget.