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The Marco Island City Council approved a $70.7 million budget for the coming year with a 1.8976 millage rate, a reduction from last year's rate of 1.9966. Lisa Conley/Naples Daily News

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The Marco Island City Council approved a $70.7 million budget for the coming year with a 1.8976 millage rate, a reduction from last year's rate of 1.9966.

With that reduction, property taxes likely would remain about the same for homeowners whose primary residence is on the island. This year’s property tax rate is approximately $1.90 for every $1,000 of taxable value.

The millage will provide a funding stream to meet ongoing and future replacement of existing city-owned assets and infrastructure, according to Finance Director and Interim City Manager Gil Polanco. 

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It will also provide funding for the anticipated 3 percent collective bargaining unit wage increase, increases in health insurance premiums and add-on service enhancements of new programs.

This year's citywide budget is about $6 million greater than last year's budget, with that extra money going toward utilities.

"The increase is primarily due to the increase in capital related items for the water and sewer utilities; the North Water Treatment Plant," which treats raw water from Marco Lakes surface water supply using lime softening and filtrationis, "is slated for fiscal 2018 at a price of $5.2 million," Polanco said.

Polanco said stabilizing the utility rates played a significant role in this year's budget:

"The major highlight from this budget is the fact the we funded the pay (as you) go, or “bucket”, capital plan while rolling back the millage rate. While there was an increase to the utility rates of 2.3 percent, we also reduced the utility capacity surcharge rate from 6 percent to 5 percent. This amounts to a net increase of 1.3 percent. The increase in rates is the last of five to which the City committed to, and coupled with the reduction in the surcharge rate, it provides us with the ability to begin to stabilize the Utility rates."

He also said that part of the increase in the budget will act as a safeguard against unforeseen disasters like Hurricane Irma.

"The other portion of the increase relates to additional utility funds going into reserves for future capital," Polanco said, "and to provide a buffer against any emergencies such as the natural disaster we just experienced."

Polanco said Irma has affected both the 2017 and 2018 budget, although the full extent of its impact is unclear because the city is in the process of applying for a reimbursement from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA.)

"Irma has affected our 2017 budget and most likely will affect our 2018 budget," he said. "Thankfully we have reserves to meet these needs, and we are in the process of documenting our reimbursement request from FEMA."

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Meanwhile, the city's general fund budget, which pays for basic services, decreased slightly from $25.6 million to $24.9 million.

Of that $24.9 million, $10.5 million will go to the police and fire departments, $2.8 will go to the Public Works Department and $1.5 million will go to the Parks and Rec Department.

The biggest change in the general fund budget is the increase in the IT Department’s budget from $525,475 to $759,511, a nearly 29 percent jump due to training and new hardware.

This year the city has taken a new approach to the budget; in prior years, the city has prepared the budget using an incremental approach, which focuses on departmental expenditures for specified purposes, such as personnel, supplies and travel.

For fiscal year 2018, the city used a priority budgeting process, which "identifies fundamental objectives of the governmental unit, estimates future-year costs and benefits and systematically analyzes alternative ways of meeting these objectives."

As part of this new approach, department directors had to provide additional justification for any expense exceeding the prior three year average. Directors were also required to justify proposed operational expenses exceeding 98 percent of their budget.

Polanco said there were several challenges with this year's budget, including "balancing the budget with a rolled back ad-valorem rate while maintaining the current level of service."

The FY 2018 budget passed 6-1 with Chair Larry Honig dissenting.

City Council's next meeting is 5:30 p.m., Monday, in the community room, 51 Bald Eagle Drive. Council will also meet at 5:30 p.m. Wednesday to select the city manager finalists.

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