Gainesville City Council meeting
When: 5:30 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Gainesville Justice Center, 701 Queen City Parkway, Gainesville
A roll-up of Gainesville property tax rates seems likely at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, but the vote tally is still in question.
Councilman Bob Hamrick laid out a case at Thursday’s work session arguing the city could afford to keep property tax rates at their current levels.
“The city is in great financial shape,” he said.
Hamrick’s push against the roll-up came after a budget proposal from City Manager Kip Padgett, who said the city should roll up its property tax rate to keep its revenues — and services — steady.
The proposal has the support of Mayor Danny Dunagan and other council members, who argue against decreasing city services by allowing property tax revenues to shrink.
On Thursday, Hamrick offered his own calculated budget projections — that in some cases differed from those of city staff — as evidence the city is spending less and bringing in more in the current fiscal year than was anticipated. The city’s fiscal year ends in June.
By his estimates, the city will spend $800,000 less than budgeted, and it is still owed about $500,000 in outstanding property tax payments.
The city should pass this projected surplus on to taxpayers, said Hamrick, by keeping the millage rate at 1.69 mills and not rolling it up to 1.77 mills.
“I’m all for giving people a break,” he said.
Millage rate is the multiplier to determine what a property owner pays in taxes, with 1 mill equaling $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value.
City Council is set to vote on its annual ordinance to set the millage rate on Tuesday ahead of budget hearings.
If the rate is rolled up, it won’t legally be considered a tax increase since the city would be drawing the same amount of revenue from taxpayers.
But Hamrick said the city has the money to avoid increasing the millage rate — and it should.
Given that city residents are paying more in water and sanitation fees, he said, “I feel like the poor taxpayer hasn’t had a break in some time.”
However, Hamrick’s projections aren’t getting an official endorsement by other city officials.
With still a month to go, Gainesville Financial Services Director Melody Marlowe said it’s too early to conclude the city won’t meet budgeted expenditures.
“The last month or two, (department spending) is typically higher,” she said.
That’s because city department heads usually wait to ensure no emergency department funds are needed until they spend their budgeted amounts.
Before introducing the millage rate ordinance, Marlowe explained the city staff’s process in formulating a budget and a proposed millage rate.
“We are very cautious,” she said.
The staff tends to be conservative in projecting the property tax digest while there are still unknowns like the number of reassessments and the uncertainty of how much tax will go uncollected.
This isn’t the first time Hamrick has pushed back against proposed tax rates.
Last year, Hamrick and City Councilman George Wangemann voted to roll back the tax rate. Ultimately, Hamrick would vote against the fiscal year 2012 budget.
However, other council members have thrown their support behind this year’s proposed roll-up and budget.
“I think (Marlowe) and (Padgett) have put together as lean a budget as possible,” Dunagan said.
Wangemann posed some questions about Hamrick’s numbers, but said he hasn’t changed his mind.
“I think I’m still pretty much set on voting for the millage (roll-up) as proposed by the city manager,” he said.
In the end, he said, he trusts the staff’s calculation.
“A lot of what I saw in (Hamrick’s) proposal was that he was hopeful of some things,” Wangemann said. He preferred the staff’s conservative approach in making sure it met its responsibilities and maintained service levels.
While council members say they haven’t heard much public feedback on the proposed budget and roll-up, at least one Gainesville resident has voiced her opposition.
“I would urge (City Council) to look to any other avenue than your constituents for the funds necessary to fill the deficit projected by lower tax revenues,” wrote Melissa Crowder in an email to Wangemann.
“Personally, I’d even be okay with a temporary cut in non-essential community services to keep our tax rates steady until we see a real broad recovery take hold in the community.”