City commission reduces millage rate

The Clewiston City Commission had its pick of two millage rates Monday night as it worked towards finalizing the budget for fiscal year 2015/16.

The commission submitted a 6.1957 millage rate to the property appraiser last month in compliance with the state of Florida Truth in Millage (TRIM) requirements; but after the county agreed to give the city $32,500 more for recreation than what was originally anticipated, the city had the option to reduce the millage rate to 6.0134 mills.

While commissioners were excited to be able to reduce taxes for city residents, some wondered whether they should keep the millage rate the same and put the extra money towards much-needed repairs.

“I’d rather see air conditioners fixed. I’d rather see roofs replaced. I’d rather see sidewalks fixed. I’d rather see more paving if we have extra money. I’d rather see swings back on the swing sets. I’d rather see these things. I’d rather see the tennis courts repaired. There’s so much that needs to be done. I know this little bit is not going to appear to help much, but $30,000 can do a lot — to start somewhere,” said Commissioner Sherida Ridgdill.

There were also some added costs the commission did not anticipate — including an $8-increase per ton by Lee County Solid Waste beginning in January and a $5.6-million overestimation of property values.

The recent increase in garbage collection fees, which were meant to pay for a new garbage truck, will now help pay for the increased fees to dump trash in Lee County. The overestimation of property values means the city loses out on $32,400 it thought it would generate through taxes.

Commissioners seemed torn between saving tax payers money and generating enough to pay for its services and capital improvements.

“We promised the tax payers we were going to reduce their taxes and we’re going to do that through East Rec. I think we need to keep that promise, but we have all these needs. I’m still for a tax break, I think the staff has done a great job reducing costs, but that hasn’t translated into profits or in our case reserves to do the things we want to do. I want us to be able to keep our promise to our tax payers, we need to pick and choose what’s important,” said Commissioner Julio Rodriguez.

Commissioner Mali Gardner was convinced the city could offer a reduced millage rate, thanks to the city’s directors who reduced costs and created increased efficiencies over the last couple years.

“The efficiencies in each of the departments is amazing. I know that we have some costs and some capital improvements that have to be done, but I cannot see where the millage rate should be increased or held at 6.1957. I think with everything that’s been done over the last couple years I just can’t, in good conscience, vote to leave a 6.1957 millage rate,” said Commissioner Gardner.

By the end of the discussion, and with no public input given during the public hearing, commissioners voted 4-0 to reduce the millage rate to 6.0134 mills. In doing so, the commission kept its promise to reduce taxes for residents given the increased contribution by the county towards recreation.

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