City millage increase voted down

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Assistant City Manager Tim Burchfield cautioned St. Augustine commissioners last night as Historic City News reporters observed a two-to-two tie vote stymie his recommended millage rate increase from 7.5 mills to 8.146 mills.

St. Johns County Administrator Michael Wanchick was successful in advancing his recommended rate increase through the County commission; however, because of the tie, city taxpayers will contribute to the cost of operating the City at the same rate as they did last year.

Since “millage” is a factor of assessed property value used to determine the dollar amount of your property tax each year, because of continued declining property values, the City will have less to operate on in fiscal 2012 than they did in fiscal 2011 — even though the millage rate remained the same.

It’s well over a million dollar swing, for Burchfield — he came in looking to collect an extra $682,000 from City taxpayers; and, instead, walked out with $700,000 less than he had to start with.

Burchfield talked about potential, non-essential programs that could be cut; in the same way that Wanchick presented a list of service programs that could be cut from the County budget.

“We can balance the budget with 7.5 mills,” Burchfield was quoted. “But the higher millage would allow us to handle future unbudgeted expenses such as the M&M Market, Galimore pool, Excelsior Building, 450th anniversary and Spanish Quarter.”

The real elephant in the room was acknowledged but not taken to task. “We’re bare bones now. There have been no raises. We’re down to salary cuts.”

Historic City News Editor Michael Gold asked Burchfield and Assistant City Attorney Carlos Mendoza about saving on salaries by simply not replacing employees who are leaving. Mendoza has just received a gubernatorial appointment to the Seventh Judicial Circuit bench, for example.

Both Burchfield and Mendoza say that during the last three years, the collection of fines and the prosecution of code violations have improved to the point that they cover the salary of the position. Unaided by an assistant, the City Attorney alone could not accomplish the same level of success, according to Mendoza.

At this point, the City has eight days to get their recommended millage to the State; during two scheduled budget hearings next month commissioners could vote to adjust the millage rate down; however, at this point, they are not allowed to raise the millage rate.

Commissioner Leanna Freeman did not attend last night’s meeting. St. Augustine Mayor Joseph L. Boles, Jr., voted to raise the millage rate in accordance with the staff recommendation — as did Commission Errol Jones. Nancy Sikes-Kline and fellow Commissioner Bill Leary voted against. Three votes would have been required to approve the millage increase.

Photo credits: © 2011 Historic City News staff photographer

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