The “marble cake” analogy comes to mind when I think of Tax Reform, a popular topic in Tallahassee these days. Our town’s budget has been through one wave of tax reform, and on January 29 voters across the state will decide if there will be a second wave. What were the consequences of the first wave? And what will likely be the consequences of the second wave?
THE FIRST WAVEIn the last three years the Lake Wales City Commission has lowered the city tax rate over two mills, from 9.44 mills to 7.3521 mills. The reduction of the first mill was called for by the City Commission; the reduction of the second mill came after careful deliberation as the Commission’s response to tax reform. (Please note that some cities did not follow the path intended by the legislature and kept their previous millage with a super-majority vote of their city council.)
If our City Commission had not reduced the tax rate the second mill it would have received $921,276 more than what is now being received at the adopted millage. This was a very difficult decision for the City Commission to make in light of these prevailing conditions:
- Just like in everyone’s household, the price of necessary items keeps going up. In the last three years, City expenditures for the listed items have gone up as follows:
- Gasoline - 40%
- Insurance - 40.2%
- Electricity - 35.2%
- Operating Supplies - 41%
Also note that in the first two years, insurance costs – health, worker’s compensation, and property – went up 74%! In response, the City Commission approved a change in the health insurance carrier and the terms of coverage. With these changes and fewer employees to be covered, insurance costs leveled off to 40% in the third year.
These and many other necessary items have risen drastically in the last three years, leaving the City (just as in your own household) with a limited ability to control these cost items. Despite the increases noted above, the overall General Fund expenditure budget for the current year is below the level it was two years ago.
These reductions have been welcomed by taxpayers, especially small business owners and the owners of rental property who are not covered by the “Save our Homes” Act, (which came into effect in 1995) that capped the county property appraiser’s office assessed value of homesteaded property at 3% per year. At the same time, the difficulty of achieving a balanced budget in the face of these thorny conditions faced by the City Commission last September can now be appreciated.
THE SECOND WAVEOn January 29, voters will have the opportunity to vote on the second wave of tax reform. Next week’s column will explore the expected results and ramifications of that important election.