TREASURE ISLAND — As city commissioners begin their workshops this week on the city's proposed $21.2 million budget for 2014-15, they might experience deja vu as they again struggle with ways to fund aging infrastructure.
City Manager Reid Silverboard is proposing a slight increase in taxes — similar to last year's increase — to pay for maintenance and repair of the city's causeway bridges.
"Major maintenance has to be done every 10 years, things like replacing the hydraulics, doing concrete work and repairing lighting," he said. An analysis has shown the city needs to save at least $250,000 a year for replacement and repair.
Under the proposed budget, the tax rate would rise from $3.33 to $3.43 per $1,000 of assessed taxable property value. With the increase, the owner of a home valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $343 in city taxes.
But city commissioners are considering reinstituting a toll on the bridges that, if approved, would be placed in an enterprise fund and could fund infrastructure needs, Silverboard said. If so, the need for a tax increase could be eliminated in the future, he said.
"The commission hasn't made the next step yet," Silverboard said. But having a toll would allow the cost of upkeep on the bridges to be shared by all who use them, not just property owners, he said.
A legal analysis on whether the city can re-establish the toll lifted several years ago is expected to be discussed by commissioners Aug. 5.
Revenue from property taxes has continued to climb, with an estimated $419,000 more expected in the coming year, but Silverboard said he only expects "modest increases, not double digits" in the future.
If commissioners approve a tax increase, it is expected to generate $134,805, which would be set aside for renewal and replacement of bridges, he said. With the slight increase in taxes approved last year, the city would annually save about $270,000 for bridge work.
The proposed budget also includes an increase in user fees for parking and recreation. The cost of annual beach parking passes would rise from $40 to $45, and parking meter rates would increase about 25 cents per hour. Summer camp fees would increase by $25, and fees for rezoning applications and other community improvement fees also would rise.
A slight rise in sewage and stormwater fees are also included in the budget proposal to cover higher operating costs and sewage treatment costs, Silverboard said.
Although collective bargaining is ongoing with city employees, Silverboard has included a 2 percent wage boost for employees, along with a 1 to 3 percent merit increase.
A possible silver lining for commissioners in generating future revenues is downtown and Gulf Boulevard redevelopment. A draft for north end redevelopment is being worked on, and Silverboard thinks the city could benefit from the measure.
"It is imperative that the city get behind providing for greater commercial development flexibility to attract quality redevelopment of our north end commercial area, central beach area and downtown," Silverboard wrote in his budget proposal.
At least one commissioner, however, is not supportive of another tax increase this year.
Mayor Robert Minning thinks the city should "hold off for a year" on another tax boost until decisions are made about a bridge toll and redevelopment proposals.
"We can see if a toll will work and how development plans go which would increase the tax base in the city," he said.
Increases in user fees are an issue all of the commission needs to weigh in on, Minning said.
Overall, he thinks the city staff "has done a good job of holding the line where they can" in regards to spending.