Hard choices at City budget workshop

Historic City News has learned that increases in property taxes, fire assessment fees and utility taxes are “on the table” as the city tries to cover an estimated $1.4 million budget deficit for next year according to figures in The St. Augustine Report.

“Our actual deficit was $2.3 million,” City Manager Bill Harriss told commissioners at a special budget workshop before Monday’s regular meeting. “What you’re seeing comes after significant cuts our staff has already made.”

The focus of the session was the city’s General Fund, or operating budget, of $21 million, which underwent cuts of $2.4 million and $1.6 million in the past two years.

City Comptroller Mark Litzinger said the city is working on estimates until state revenue sharing and county property assessment figures are completed.

Among the choices presented, a property tax increase of less than a mill could raise $1.7 million, a fire assessment increase of two cents could raise $332,000 and a flat 10% utility tax could raise $319,000.

All three options remain on the table until firmer figures are developed.

“The average taxpayer would see a zero increase” in the tax bill, Harriss said, due to decreased property values.

The fire assessment fee increase would affect all properties, including institutions not subject to property taxes.

The city’s current utility tax on electric service is 10% of the first $100 and 1% thereafter. Staff proposed a flat 10%. “We are one of the very few cities we’ve found without the flat 10% tax,” Chief Administrative Officer Tim Burchfield told commissioners.

A second special workshop is scheduled for July 27 at 3:30 p.m. in the Alcazar Room at City Hall. Traditional August budget workshops will follow with public hearings in September before final action.

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