By: Sharon Aron Baron
As he stood in front of the Coral Springs city commission, resident Lance Rachbind said that raising taxes “Doesn’t make our lives better, it makes our lives harder.”
Rachbind was just one of several hundred residents who attended the First Public Budget Hearing on September 19, after either reading about the proposed increases or receiving their TRIM notices in the mail. Because the commission chambers wasn’t large enough to hold the crowd, the city opened up two auxiliary rooms at city hall which had a live video feed.
The city initially proposed increasing the millage 1.25 mills or 26 percent, however, this didn’t take into account the increase in property values which already gives the city more tax revenue without any changes. Residents who spoke said that their rates would be increasing from 26 to 40 percent.
Commissioner Larry Vignola said there was a lot of misinformation out there and Mayor Skip Campbell agreed calling what people were reading as “fake news.” But the increases were confirmed by Catherine Givens, Director of Budget and Strategy where she went over the budget and millage rate increases in her presentation along with proposed increases in debt, fire and solid waste assessments.
The TRIM notices brought to the commission meeting weren’t fake to the home and business owners who pleaded with the commission that the hundreds and thousands in increased taxes would be too much to bear.
Rita Bewry, a 15 year resident of Coral Springs said her taxes went up $500 along with her property insurance increasing $500. As a 75-year-old, moving away wasn’t an option.
“We expect the government, the people we elect, to protect us, to look out for our best interests, not to burden us. I beg of you to please think about what you’re doing.”
Richard Malone said that his tax increase would be 30 percent higher than the prior year and that Coral Springs was the only ad valorem entity in the county is taxing him more than three percent.
“You have not enlightened the basic public until tonight with any of the details, concrete information or the need for such an exorbitant increase in the millage rate,” he said.
Nancy Lawrence said she saw the notice in the mail and was alarmed by the increase in her taxes. She said she understood that to maintain the quality of the city they would have to pay certain costs, but she objected to the hike.
“I understand you say you’re going to do what’s best for the city, but you hear everyone here. This is not what the homeowner’s want. We’d rather see a gradual increase. We know it’s possible and we’re asking you to listen to what we’re saying.”
Former Commissioner Tom Powers said that it was the easiest vote they had all year and was already decided by the people last year during the penny tax vote.
“They didn’t want not only the penny tax, they didn’t want the half-penny tax,” said Powers. “Your job is simple. You gotta listen to what the people say.”
Powers asked the commission to concentrate on economic development.
“That’s where the growth comes and that’s where the revenue comes from. The public has been very clear – it’s not to come from taxes. It’s to come from growth.”
Mayor Skip Campbell, who stressed that the vote had to be a unanimous 5-0 to pass, said that he was against the 1.25 mill increase and told staff that there were ways that they could cut some of their expenses. He also suggested that they should increase the millage rate on a two-year basis. He suggested a .75 millage rate increase, however, it would need to be adjusted due to the unexpected costs for the recent hurricane cleanup which was estimated to cost $13 million.
Campbell touched briefly on staff cuts and said the city looked at zero based budgeting for city hall – where all expenses are justified during a period of time, however, they only performed this in one department: human resources, where they discovered every job was necessary and there was no ‘fat’. He said that the city intended to do it again this year with another department.
“There are a lot of citizens in Coral Springs. I think we can still make this a premier city with what we have…but I think we need to cut back on some of these proposals,” said Campbell, referring to the increases in the budget. He stressed that in order to be fiscally responsible, there had to be some sort of tax increase, however, he was against 1.25 mill increase..
City Manager Mike Goodrum wanted the commission to be aware that they wouldn’t be able to do the enhancements and investments in the community that they planned for. He said with a rate of .75 the city would only be maintaining their current level of decline.
“Currently, the city is deferring maintenance on many items and will continue to defer maintenance,” said Goodrum. “You will not see enhancements in the community. I’m confident we will maintain where the city is now… any thoughts of the mediums looking better, the parks looking better – those things – we won’t be able to make that commitment.”
Campbell changed his figure from .75 and said he would be willing to support a 1 percent millage rate which would be a 21 percent increase in taxes.
“I could tell you that I could live with 1 [percent],” he said.
“If the commission sets it at 1 [percent], I am confident we can come back essentially next week with a budget that does make an investment in the community and we can work towards that,” said Goodrum.
Vignola wanted a list of all improvements proposed so the commission could decide, and the public could see what they would be hand-choosing.
To absorb some of the improvements, Campbell also suggested a general obligation bond so residents could vote on future improvements to the city as well.
Commissioner Lou Cimaglia made a motion to move forward with 1 percent, seconded by Vignola and everyone voted yes, except Vice Mayor Dan Daley.
Daley wanted to discuss it first. Daley stressed that Coral Springs had the lowest millage rate for a city of its size but said it also translated to being the cheapest place to live. He was concerned that they were picking a number out of the sky as long as it was below 1.25 percent without the numbers and the projects in front of them. He wanted the opportunity to have some wiggle room.
“I would be remiss if I didn’t seriously speak up right now and ask if there was a middle ground to be had.”
He said if the city manager came back next week and said 1 percent was fine and it covered the projects needed, but if it didn’t, he would be apprehensive about being in that position. He asked the mayor to meet him somewhere in the middle.
“I’m just asking for the opportunity to partner on this, meet me in the middle, and you know what? We may just go for 1 [percent] next week. No problem. But let’s do this based on serious numbers and serious recommendations.”
Campbell believed that 1 percent was the appropriate number to keep the city at the current service level.
“Let’s say we could get everything we need. Not want, need. But we could only get it at 1.1 or 1.15 or whatever that number actually is,” said Daley.
Daley made a motion to set the millage rate at 1.15 percent which was seconded by Vignola.
The commission is now waiting for updated numbers to fit in the budget which will be finalized at the Second Public Budget Hearing on September 27 at 6:00 p.m.