MARCO ISLAND — Marco Island City Council gave a second nod of approval for an approximate 20 percent tax rate increase on Monday. They may still vote to lower that during September meetings, however.
The maximum tax rate of $1.98 per $1,000 of taxable property value was set by council in a 4-2 vote in late June when City Councilman Joe Batte was absent. Batte became the swing vote on Monday when council took a poll of members to see if they have the five votes necessary.
Batte was reluctant because the proposed 2011 budget includes nearly $3 million for reserves.
“I get a little bit nervous when we put a lot of money in reserves that government can use for anything it wants,” Batte said.
Councilman Jerry Gibson said Batte would be there to vote on how to spend the money, and with that, garnered Batte’s approval.
Councilmen Bill Trotter and Larry Magel vied for the lower roll back rate, which is $1.86 per $1,000 of taxable property value and would have the average taxpayer paying the same this year as last year.
Last year’s tax rate was $1.65 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The Collier County Property Appraiser’s office estimated an approximate 11 percent decrease in the average Marco Island property value. Specific values are now available on the Collier Appraiser’s website.
Marco Island Taxpayers’ Association board members made up the majority of the audience.
“I’m upset because whenever I heard anything from anyone, the budget was going to be geared toward a lower rate,” said MITA President Fay Biles.
“This is the wrong way to go for our people,” she said.
Recent cuts in top city positions, including the community development director, public information coordinator, chief of code compliance and two police lieutenants aren’t leading to tax savings.
Another cut announced on Monday won’t lead to a savings either. The manager of the city Racquet Center, Bill Van Glabek, is being eliminated, saving the city about $58,000 annually, said Parks and Recreation Director Bryan Milk. The center, which always ran in the red losing about $70,000 annually, Milk said, will now be managed by existing part-time employees earning about $10 per hour without benefits.
Operating hours will be cut and the approximate 200 members will pay $350 annually instead of $300, Milk said.
Other city fees to increase during review sessions this September include building permits, impact fees and fire prevention fees, officials said.
After reviewing the approximate $21 million general fund budget, which is about $40,000 higher than last year’s budget, as proposed by interim- City Manager Jim Riviere, council increased the budget by another $200,000. The increase includes replacement of two police cars for $75,000, maintaining marine patrol and a $100,000 grant application for bike paths.
The utility and capital projects will be reviewed beginning 1 p.m., Aug. 16 .
Despite the city currently having more than $5 million in reserves with another $3 million being budgeted in 2011, the city likely won’t be able to bail out its ailing utility, said Finance Director Patricia Bliss.
A miscalculation of how many residents would delay paying their septic tank replacement program assessments is of great concern, auditors have said. Many more utility customers are delaying their payment than officials had estimated.
General fund reserves cannot be used for the utility’s STRP-related debt problems, Bliss said.