By Michael Salerno
For Hometown News
PORT ORANGE - City leaders approved an initial property tax rate for the 2012-13 fiscal year, noting the rate could possibly go lower with an expected budget savings.
Council members adopted the budget and a tentative millage rate of $4.95 per $1,000 of assessed value, which is 1.5-percent below the rolled-back rate of $5.02. Adopting the rolled-back rate would have brought in the same amount of revenue from property taxes as the previous fiscal year without new construction and annexations.
It's possible the tax rate could be lower than $4.95 when it's brought for final approval on Sept. 18. City leaders expressed interest in reducing it to $4.90 if the city achieves a $235,000 savings related to pensions in the fire department's budget.
Vice Mayor Bob Pohlmann said the rate of $4.95 is a "fair rate" considering the city has had no tax increases for the last five years, but he is open to discussion about reducing it.
"I think it's a very fair value for what (services) we get in our city," he said.
Last year's tax rate was also set at $4.95.
Councilman Bob Ford supported reducing the millage rate to $4.90, saying he wanted to send "a message of hope" to the city's taxpayers that the council is making progress on reducing the unfunded liability in city pensions that became a problem in recent years.
"This is the first step, we hope of many, in trying to bring the costs down," Vice Mayor Pohlmann said.
City Manager Ken Parker said a tax rate of $4.95 would bring in $162,510 less in ad valorem taxes generated by the city. A rate of $4.90 would cut the city's revenues in taxes by an additional $107,595, he said.
One citizen said he believes city leaders could achieve a greater savings without affecting city services.
Ted Noftall, a local business owner who ran unsuccessfully for city council, objected to several expenses in the budget such as a sick leave buyback program and raises for city employees making $100,000. He also believes the expense of the fire marshal position, budgeted at $185,939, could be reduced by contracting out the fire marshal's services on an as-needed basis.
He encouraged city leaders to consider pursuing cuts because doing so could help lower the tax rate further from $4.90.
"There's a dollar and a dime on the floor, and you're looking at the dime," Mr. Noftall said. "Why aren't you looking at the dollar?"