MADEIRA BEACH — Residents could be facing their first city property tax rate increase in nearly 30 years in order to fund an ambitious citywide revitalization program and expansion of city services, a proposal the City Commission received without comment Monday.
The increase would raise a typical home's tax bill by about $50 a year (based on a $300,000 assessment and a $50,000 homestead exemption), according to City Manager Shane Crawford.
The actual city tax rate would rise from 1.79 mills to 1.99 mills. Each mill represents $1 in taxes per $1,000 in assessed valuation after all exemptions. City taxes make up about 10 percent of a property's total tax bill.
The increased revenues from the proposed tax rate hike will be boosted by an expected 5.725 percent increase in property values, combining to generate an additional quarter million dollars in annual revenue for the city.
"You are an evolving, progressive commission and if you want flexibility you will need to raise the millage," Crawford told the commissioner as he presented his $6.4 million annual budget for the fiscal year beginning in October.
The city is in the midst of a $10 million construction project to build a city hall, a fire station, and a new and expanded recreation complex officials hope will attract softball and other sports tournaments.
Crawford said officials from the Marriott hotel under construction near the causeway recently inquired about rental rates, catering services and other amenities when the new complex opens next year.
The city is also planning to spend $2.5 million next year to rehabilitate part of the city's stormwater system along Boca Ciega Drive, an area which is often flooded during summer thunderstorms. Stormwater fees will likely double, from $5 to $10 a month, to pay for the project and begin a capital fund for future stormwater projects.
In the past year, the city reconstituted its building department and now plans to hire an assistant for the clerk and city manager, as well as two administrative positions in the expanded recreation department.
Despite these and other projected spending programs, the city will still have a "very healthy" $3 million in general reserves, about 50 percent of annual operating costs, and $1.5 million in emergency hurricane reserves by 2019, city finance director/assistant city manager Vince Tenaglia said.
In his formal budget letter to the commission, Crawford said the tax and fee increases are "necessary to help provide sustainable services for years to come."
He stressed that even though higher taxes are "hard to swallow for the common taxpayer," Madeira Beach property taxes will remain among the very lowest municipal tax rates in the county.
"When people say why on earth are you raising my taxes, tell them to look at all we have done in the last two years," Crawford said. "We have proven ourselves as an organization that we can get things done and be smart about it."
During that period, the city rehabilitated its seawalls, replaced aging beach walkovers; installed a pay station system in public parking lots; and completed a major beautification program at Archibald Park.
In addition to reconstructing its municipal complex, the city also plans to bury utilities along Gulf Boulevard in its downtown core, rehabilitate beach groins, continue improvements to its marina docks, and install monument signs at the city's entrances.
The commission set its first workshop and public hearing on the proposed 2014-15 budget for July 16. Formal hearings and a final decision on the budget and next year's property tax rate will be made in September.