Commissioners Wednesday passed their 2013-2014 budget, along with a tax rate essentially unchanged from last year, but not without a renewed warning from Mayor Jeri Muoio: With the economy rebounding, the city needs to replenish reserves it has raided the last two years.
Commissioners voted 4-0 — Ike Robinson was absent — to approve a $165 million operating fund budget with a tax rate of $8.54 per $1,000 of a home’s taxable value. The rate includes debt service.
Finance Director Jeff Green has warned that, unless the city finds more cuts or gets a lot more income over the next year, it will start its 2014-2015 budget year $5 million “in the hole” and will have to go back to reserves for a third straight year.
Muoio said that that’s something the city just can’t do.
Facing a budget gap of as much as $8.5 million, the commission voted in July to retain the option of raising the tax rate from $8.54 to as much as $9.55. And Green had proposed tripling the city’s fire assessment fee, including increasing the fire fee on residences from $25 to $85.
But city staff cut the gap to $2.5 million and Muoio proposed leaving the tax rate and fire fee unchanged and instead dipping into reserves for the second year to finish balancing the budget. Commissioners agreed, voting Sept. 3 to leave the fire fee alone.
Revenues have dropped 13 percent since 2006, Green said. He has said many expected new developments and sales of property would eventually account for an added $1.3 billion in property value and generate as much as $10 million in new taxes. But he’s warned it could take as long as a decade for the city to get back to its high-water mark for property value.
Green has said projected expenses next year will be up more than $5.8 million, with $4.9 million of that in police and fire costs. The largest amount — $2.4 million — is a projected jump in police pension costs.
Green said the pension situation is “not going to get better” in future years.
Len Fitzy, president of the citizens’ advocacy group City Watch and a retired union leader and negotiator in the public schools sector, told commissioners, “the current pension picture not only cannot be funded, it leads to potential disaster.”