By Angela Smith
For Hometown News
SEBASTIAN - Sebastian property owners may soon see their property tax bills increase if the Sebastian City Council ultimately decides to raise the tax rate next year.
The motion to set what the maximum property tax rate increase could be for 2013 was approved unanimously during Wednesday night's council meeting on June 27 to 3.7166, an almost 40 cent increase per $1,000 of tax assessed value over the city's current rate of 3.3041, which left some in the audience puzzled.
"I don't understand why the city may need to raise rates," said Tina Cafro. "It caught me off guard as an average homeowner, because of the fact that home values are down and they've already cut services and hours. It doesn't make sense."
But Councilwoman Andrea Coy quickly added her two cents to the discussion after voting, explaining that the council is only setting a maximum rate for notice purposes. She also stated the council will later publish the actual proposed rate and discuss it at future budget meetings, taking public input before their final vote.
"It's not set in stone," Ms. Coy told a confused Ms. Cafro and other residents in the audience. "Our formal decision is not being made tonight."
Councilwoman Coy's comments were a relief to some in the audience, since the current rate is lower than it has been in previous years as Mayor Jim Hill explained during the meeting.
Trying to ease concerns, council members continued to clarify that their goal in setting the maximum tax rate now is to make sure the city has enough generated funds for possible natural disasters without dipping into the reserve or going bankrupt, as they noted the city of Stockton, Calif., recently did in June.
With the proposed maximum rate, an estimated extra $147,419 in tax revenue for the city would be created. These funds could possibly help off-set previous and any additional cuts that has limited the city's service to its community, said Councilman Richard Gilmor.
However, Ms. Cafro said the excess money should be accrued by fees paid by out-of-town visitors who use city property, such as the docks at The Yacht Club, one of two boat ramp facilities provided by the city for free that is in need of additions.
"Homeowners can't afford this right now if they choose to raise the tax," said Ms. Cafro, who attended the meeting with her husband and another resident to follow up with council members about a handicap entryway on the docks.
"Fees in place like that may help the city fix what is already needed and has been brushed off. If they don't budget funds to fix the problem now, they're going to have a big lawsuit on their hands if someone gets hurt."
In spite of the confusion, all was calm by the end of the meeting, as City Manager Al Minner discussed the tax rate and dock concerns with Ms. Cafro privately, setting up a meeting at the ramp to discuss its future enhancements.
"Boating and fishing is a big deal here," Mr. Minner said. "So people want the accessibility and we try as much as we can to address their concerns, whatever it may be."
As for the future of the property tax, which could increase by as much as $28 to $50, Carol Jean Jordan, county tax collector, will send notices to the public informing them before the rate is finalized, encouraging residents to attend the several future council meetings.