By Dawn Krebs
PORT ST. LUCIE - At a recent budget retreat the Port St. Lucie City Council got to hear some good news for a change.
Even though the taxable value of homes in Port St. Lucie still showed a decrease from last year, and the cost of running the city increased slightly, the city will have other revenue coming in to allow city officials to lower the tax rate for residents.
The proposed budget - this year, at approximately $478 million - is based on reducing last year's property tax rate of 5.728 to 5.628 per $1,000 of value. This means a home valued at $100,000 would pay $56.29
"That alone will be a drop in taxes by 2 percent," said David Pollard, director of the office of management and budget.
A lower tax rate, combined with the lower tax value on residents' homes means residents should pay fewer taxes than last year.
The taxable value for all residential and business properties in the city totals $6.3 billion, less than half of the 2007 value for the same properties. Some of the revenue was recovered by increases in the sales tax, electric utility tax and communication services tax.
"We certainly hope this is the last year we see the property values drop," he said.
The budget actually increased almost $52 million from last year, but the majority of that is $35 million in grants for the Crosstown Parkway that are coming in this year. The tax rate for Crosstown Parkway will stay the same as last year's 1.22 percent.
In addition, the reorganization of many departments and programs in the city led to smaller budgets for this year.
Also proposed in the budget for the coming year is some good news for city employees. The budget reflects not only a 1.5 percent cost-of-living adjustment to boost salaries, but also a one-time bonus of $1,554. After taxes, the bonus should be approximately $1,000.
"We haven't been able to reward the employees for a while," said Mr. Pollard. "They've gone a number of years without a raise. This is a change to help the employees."
The bonus is to help offset the anticipated increase in the city's health insurance plan. The cost-of-living increase is set to occur on the anniversary of the employee's start date.
Another change is the percentage of money held in a general fund as a financial contingency, which was at 4 percent last year. This money is placed to one side in case of a crisis such as a hurricane. At 4 percent, the city only had two weeks of money with which to run the city. The 2012-13 budget will have 17 percent or an estimated two months of money set aside for emergencies.
Now that the city council has approved the budget, it will be presented to residents in two public hearings on Sept. 10 and Sept. 24, as well as to the various unions that work within the city. The final budget should be approved by Oct. 1.
"We should be holding our own, and maybe even gaining a little bit," Mr. Pollard said. "Now that we're stable in our spending, we can start to look to see what we can do with future projects."