Chiefland holds line on millage

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Result is less taxes, smaller budget

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

Chiefland property owners will get a break on taxes again this year as the city commission voted unanimously on Monday to stick with the 4.75 millage it has had for three years. As a result, the city will take in less money in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 and that had some business men voicing concerns that the city is on the wrong financial path. 

Chiefland's assessed property values have dropped 4.29 percent from $134,459,863 in 2011 to $128,687,167 this year, according to the Levy County Property Appraiser's Office. The same millage cost the city $27,420.31 in revenue. Although a staff overview of the budget said the property tax loss would be $31,583.

In addition the city is taking a loss on taxes from the relocation of the Central Florida Electric Cooperative from the city to the unincorporated county and has lost about $38,000 from a fire services contract with Otter Creek. The Town of Otter Creek got the money from Levy County to pay for protection in the unincorporated county fire District 13, but the county commission cancelled the contract effective Oct. 1.

Earlier this year the city staff advised the commission it should raise the millage to the rollback rate of 4.9903 in order to recapture the money lost to decreased property values. City Manager Grady Hartzog and City Financial Coordinator Laurie Copeland said the city could not continue to cut the budget.

The commission refused and order the staff two weeks ago to cut the budget further 

After the commission adopted the millage, it adopted the annual budget by a vote of 4-1 with Commissioner Teresa Barron dissenting. The General Fund operating budget is $1,946,364.46 “with no contingency fund monies for fiscal year 12/13,” City Manager Grady Hartzog said in a staff overview of the budget.

One item mentioned in the last meeting, cutting full time building official Bill Hammond's position to part-time was not discussed and he will remain full time. Earlier the commissions transferred Janelle Lundy, Hammond's administrative assistant, to fill a position in City Hall when another employee left.

After the votes on the millage and budget, Dr. Bill Martin, an orthodontist and commercial property owner, voiced his concerns. He was one of several businessmen, including Realtor Doug King, chiropractor Dr. Keith Richeson, banker Gray Drummond, contractor Todd Gray, dentist Dr. Bob Mount who attended the meeting, in addition to former Mayor Betty Walker and John Henry Donaldson, former planning board member.

“You guys have taken several hits and painful as it's going to be you guys are going to have to have revenue,” Martin said. “As a businessman in this community I'm getting worried by what I see.

“This revenue issue is something you are going to have to address.”

At the suggestion that the city might consider raising taxes, Mayor Teal Pomeroy siasaid, “That won't happen as long as I sit here.”

Pomeroy went on later to say, “It's hard cutting stuff but we're going to do it and we're going to keep doing it.”

Commissioner Teresa Barron said residents could not afford to pay more taxes. She said at the monthly preayer luncheon that the commissioners attend the pastors discuss how more people are coming in seeking help to pud food on the table and said she sees more people seeking help from Tri-County Outreach which is next door to her accounting practice. 

Richeson asked the commission to consider other revenue sources. “When was the last time you addressed the blue law,” he asked, referring to the city's ban on alcohol sales on Sunday.

Another spectator told the commission, “You have lost out on business because of that,” and mentioned the Beef O'Brady's restaurant that located out of town. 

Pomeroy told the audience to start setting up chairs out on the law because they would have a crowd protesting consideration of Sunday sales. 

Mount asked what business did the commission would hope to have move to the city if it was cutting back on services and operations. 

“What is going to happen next year,” King asked. “How many people can you let go?” He said business is looking to raise revenues to cope with rising prices. “How are you going to keep up with it?”

Rollin Hudson pointed out that the city's spending will make it debt free by 2014. And he said others residents who had come in earlier to ask for better protection from speeders for their neighborhood could not afford an increase in taxes. “The next time that lady's in here ask her if she wants to pay more.” Hudson said. 

The businessmen expressed concern about the city spending from its reserves and auditor Robert Beauchamp's warning that the money will be gone in the next two years. 

Pomeroy said “I don;t think I want to build back up the reserve because if we get a reserve I know what we're going to do with it. We'll spend it.”

When asked what that statement meant about the commission's leadership that it would spend every dollar available, Pomeroy said he was talking about government in general, not the commission in particular. 

Barron said he was not speaking for her with that statement as she wants the city's reserves built up.