MARCO ISLAND — It’s not often you hear taxpayers ask politicians to increase their tax rate, but that’s just what happened at Marco’s council meeting Monday evening. Islanders may face a 33 percent increase in their city tax rate this year and though not all are happy, some of Marco’s most notoriously conservative taxpayers aren’t too upset about the possibility.
Council voted unanimously to set the maximum possible 2010 tax rate at 1.855 mils or $1.855 per $1,000 of taxable property value to pay for city operating expenses.
The city portion of Islanders’ property tax bills will also include 1 mil or $1 per $1,000 of taxable property value to pay for debt on the Veterans’ Community Park property purchase. City Manager Steve Thompson said the city will be paying off this debt until about 2020.
The total tax for Marco will then be $2.855 per $1,000 of taxable property value in 2010. Council will need to finalize this in September and to keep this rate would require a super majority vote of councilors, or five out of seven of them.
The absolute maximum 2010 tax rate council considered Monday was 1.925 mils, or $1.925 per $1,000 of taxable property value. This would require unanimous approval by council to pass during final budget hearings in September.
On June 1, Collier County Property Appraiser’s estimated a 12.3 percent reduction in taxable Island property values from 2008 values. This signified about a $1.6 million budget deficit for Marco.
In addition to loss of state shared revenues and property value decreases, there has been an increase in pension plans and liability insurance expenses, Thompson said.
Council set the rate that would offer the most flexibility, but indicated they would likely approve a slightly lower rate come September.
A possibility broached by council was a goal of 1.7 or 1.75 mils.
Councilmen Bill Trotter and Jerry Gibson had different ways of reaching similar conclusions Monday.
“I don’t think we want to constrain ourselves too much now,” Trotter said.
“I don’t want to bang my head too hard, too much right now,” Gibson said.
Councilman Ted Forcht wanted to see more opportunities to explain taxes in terms of actual dollars rather than percent increases.
“Nobody even understands what the heck a mil is. What do I owe you?” Forcht said of how the information should be presented this budget season.
“We’ll probably budget to a revenue neutral 1.75 (mils) but we want the wiggle room for now,” said Trotter.
Resident Amadeo Petricca, who serves on the Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association board, made comments that councilors said would be surprising anywhere but coming from Petricca on Marco.
“I’m having a problem with my boss,” Petricca said indicating MITA president Fay Biles.
Petricca suggested setting a max rate increase of 33 percent.
“Just because you tax to that level doesn’t mean you have to spend it,” he said.
If someone had a million taxable value, it would yield a $463 increase from their 2008 taxes, Petricca said.
Council approved a budget for 2009 about $500,000 less than permitted under the spending cap, which limits spending to no more than 3 percent plus COLA from the year before.
“If you reduce it this year also, it’s going to be more difficult to get it even in the good times,” Petricca said.
Biles disagreed with increasing the tax rate by so much.
“I think the impact on the people on this Island is going to be startling. I heard 20 percent cuts from Trotter, now I hear no decrease in services, no 20 percent discount. There is no city in the state of Florida not thinking about cuttings costs to the city.” Ken Honecker said he agreed with Petricca that a tax rate increase was understandable and preferred over new hidden fees, primarily because they're deductible on Federal income taxes. "I'd rather see it cleanly passes in the millage rate," Honecker said.
Resident and MITA board member Linda McCune said she thought the city should have saved money during the good times when there was excess tax revenue above the spending cap. She urged council to go ahead with their plans nonetheless.
“Set the highest rate. I think it’s great because you’ll have everyone here saying why are you doing this and everyone will be looking at how you vote,” McCune said.
Council voted 7-0 to set the maximum rate at 1.855 mils.