By Patrick McCallister
For Hometown News
DELAND - With housing prices still depressed, the City Commission gave its first nod to a proposed 2012-2013 budget at its meeting, Tuesday, Sept. 4.
The commission will adopt a final budget at its next regular meeting, Monday, Sept. 17. Michael Pleus, city manager, said if the commission adopts the proposed budget, the average property owner will pay about $415 for city taxes.
"For what people are paying, they're getting a pretty good value," Mr. Pleus told commissioners.
The commission is poised to adopt the rollback property-tax rate, $7.01 per $1,000 of assessed, non-exempt value. Rollback is the tax rate that would generate the same amount of ad valorem taxes as the previous year, minus new construction and annexation.
In an interview after the meeting, Kevin Lewis, finance director, said it's the fifth year of rollback for the city.
"The city has done a tremendous job over the last couple years trying to reduce operating expenses," Mr. Lewis said.
This year's property-tax rate is $6.64 per $1,000 of assessed, non-exempt value.
DeLand's property values have declined since 2007. That year, the Volusia County Property Appraiser's Office put DeLand's taxable value at just over $2 billion. The appraiser's office now values the city's taxable properties at slightly more than $1.1 billion. In 2011, DeLand's taxable value was about $1.2 billion.
About 36 percent of DeLand's properties are tax exempt for a variety of reasons. For example, parcels owned by most not-for-profit organizations and many totally and permanently disabled veterans are tax exempt. Additionally some properties have values less than their owners' exemptions. Mr. Pleus told the commission almost 39 percent of exempt properties are residential.
Mr. Lewis said there are early signs DeLand's real-estate market is improving.
"We're seeing home building starting to pick up," he said. "We're seeing more (construction) permits. We're seeing more (existing) houses moving."
Property taxes will generate about $8 million of the city's proposed $22.3 million general fund budget. Other funds come from sales tax sharing, fees and other sources. The general fund is about $100,000 more than the adopted budget last fiscal year. Last year's budget was amended upward to $22.5 million in July.
Mr. Lewis said that inflation, such as fuel costs, hit governments like other consumers, so an identical budget from one year to the next has less purchasing power. The city is saving money in part by putting off needed infrastructure maintenance, such as road resurfacing, and reducing services, such as code enforcement.
"The future - we need to start seeing turnaround," he said. "We need moderate revenue growth."