Dade City Commissioners adopted the city’s tentative budget for next fiscal year, but not without some disagreement.
A first reading ordinance of the $19,296,935 budget passed by a 4-1 vote, with Commissioner Nicole Deese Newlon casting the lone dissenting vote during a Sept. 10 meeting.
The 2019-2020 budget is based on an approved 7.14 millage rate.
Newlon took umbrage with multiple funding issues, including the city using $150,000 in reserves to float its operating budget.
“Effectively, to me, it’s like taking money out of my savings account to float my monthly expenses at my house,” she said, “so that to me means we are overextended.”
Newlon added it’s even more concerning with the city having “very large expenses” upcoming through its five-year Capital Improvements Program plan and proposed projects like a downtown splash park/bike hub, Morningside Drive extension and so on.
“We’re spending too much. That’s my opinion,” she said.
Newlon also took issue with certain aspects of funding for the city’s community and economic development department.
She disagreed with a $106,000 total salary benefits package for an economic development/CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) director position and creating a second city planner position.
Newlon argued the economic development/CRA director position “is effectively $7,000 to $9,000 more than the last person that was doing that job was making.”
Dade City Senior Planner Melanie Romagnoli is expected to take over the expanded CRA role, which has been vacant since Mike Sherman left the city in July. Romagnoli previously spent nearly a decade as a program administrator for the Pasco County Office of Economic Growth.
Said Newlon: “I don’t think that person should make more for doing what I think is less work because they now have another person working under them, and the other position that was under them is being transitioned into a much bigger position.”
Newlon also questioned $60,000 for advertising, special projects promotional activities, and $75,000 to rehabilitate the old police department building on Pasco Avenue.
Other commissioners, however, stressed the need for boosting the city’s economic development efforts for next fiscal year by any necessary means — and capitalizing on surrounding residential and commercial growth.
Commissioner Scott Black put it like this: “The economy as it is now, while it is booming, we need to have our staff in place so that we can allow some development to happen. If they’re being hamstrung because there’s not enough hours in the day and not enough hands available, then we’re not going to be well served.”
Black also said of the budget: “It’s not an enviable position to be in, but we have to be positioning ourselves to do these things.”
Commissioner Jim Shive agreed: “In order to move this city forward, we’ve got to grow and get some things on the table.”
Mayor Camille Hernandez added she’s “expecting big things” from an enlarged economic development/CRA team.
Said Hernandez: “We see the houses starting to build, we see businesses start to come and we’re not going to be able to continue that unless we have the expertise and the knowledge of that kind of input into our city.”
One reason for the city’s tight budget constraints this year: commissioners in July voted to set the tentative millage rate at 7.14 rather than a rolled rollback rate of 7.3297 recommended by city staffers.
Commissioners opted not to go with the higher property tax rate, asserting residents have already seen increases in water and sewer rates, and a stormwater fee assessment.
At 7.14 mills, ad valorem tax revenues in the city’s general fund decrease by $40,850 for the 2019-2020 fiscal year, according to Dade City Manager Leslie Porter. The rollback rate would have resulted in a $50,000 swing and thus increased ad valorem revenues in the general fund by about $10,000.
The mayor noted it’s been one of the more challenging budget years she can remember.
“It has been extremely tough,” Hernandez said. “I think in all the years I’ve been here this is probably one of the hardest that I have ever seen and trying to respect our community and keep the millage the same.”
Published September 18, 2019
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