Despite declining property values in the area, Gainesville’s elected officials are ready to move forward on a spending plan that doesn’t require them to change the property tax rate.
But they aren’t moving in unison.
Councilman Robert “Bob” Hamrick raised the sole hand in opposition of the city’s $26.6 million budget Tuesday night after his fellow council members showed no interest in rolling back the city’s millage rate.
After years of tight budgets that drew down the government’s reserve fund, city officials have prepared a spending plan for the upcoming fiscal year that allows them to maintain the city’s current services and begin to rebuild that rainy-day reserve.
The budget plan is centered on the city’s current millage rate, which charges $2.92 for every $1,000 in taxable property.
Both Hamrick and Councilman George Wangemann expressed an interest Tuesday in rolling back the millage rate just as
Mayor Pro Tem Danny Dunagan moved to give the budget proposal its first approval.
Wangemann offered his own motion to reduce the millage rate now that it seemed the city was out from under a budgetary dark cloud.
Wangemann said the move would be a “good gesture to the citizens of Gainesville,” many of whom, he said, were still struggling from the economic recession.
Hamrick seconded Wangemann’s motion, but the measure fell as the three remaining council members opposed and
Dunagan again motioned his support for the original budget plan, citing the city’s previous use of its fund balance to get it through difficult budget years.
“We’ve let our fund balance drop down, because of hard times, to four weeks (of reserve),” Dunagan said. “And we usually try to keep it anywhere from two to three months, so we want to raise that fund balance to six weeks.”
Dunagan also said the city needed to use the money to replace old police vehicles and repair neglected roads.
“We can’t just keep letting these things go and go and go,” Dunagan said.
Councilwoman Myrtle Figueras had another motive for keeping the tax rate the same, she said. Both she and Dunagan expressed concerns that, as property values continue to decline in the city, the surplus revenue in the budget may be needed for day-to-day operations.
“Why reduce the millage now just to get a chance to raise it next year?” Figueras said. “I don’t see how we can justify that.”
As Dunagan’s motion went to a vote, however, only Hamrick opposed. Wangemann, despite his original motion to reduce the city’s tax rate, voted in favor of the original proposal.
“It’s still a great budget,” Wangemann said.
The council will give its final approval to the budget on June 21. The spending plan will cover the fiscal year that begins July 1 and ends June 30, 2012.