Apalachicola rolls back millage, plans utility help

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Taxes in Apalachicola will be dropping, with the adoption Tuesday evening of the rollback rate of the Apalachicola city commission.

By unanimous vote, the commissioners will lower the millage rate to 9.001 mills, from 9.3000 down to 9.0001 mills, and they were able to do that without making cuts.

That’s because Apalachicola’s tax base expanded by about $10.1 million, from $160.6 million to $170.7 million, the equivalent of 6.3 percent, a little less than the 7.3 percent seen a year prior.

While she ultimately backed the financial plans for the upcoming fiscal year, commissioner Despina George did voice her objection with a nay vote on the millage, preferring to keep it unchanged and use the additional $51,376 in revenue that results from that to help lower the water and sewer bill burden on residents.

The commissioners instead plan to find monies in the general fund that they will use to lower the utility burden, although how is not yet clear.

The commission has scheduled a 5 p.m. workshop on Tuesday, prior to the city meeting, to discuss their options.

“Our agreement with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection says water and sewer revenues must be used only for water and sewer, and that we must maintain a rate structure to fund all necessary repairs and upgrades,” said Mayor Kevin Begos. “But DEP acknowledges that we can use general fund revenues to provide rate relief to specific groups.

“They have asked, and we have agreed to be completely transparent. All such proposals will be discussed and voted on at public meetings,” he said. “Also, we agree to do any rate relief on a year-by-year basis. In other words, we revisit the issue each year, based on budget realities.”

Finance Director Leo Bebeau outlined three options to consider for relief:

A $10 monthly discount off the sewer user fee for up to 250 low-income seniors, at an estimated cost of $30,000.

Provide one month of sewer user fee relief for citizens and businesses, at an estimated cost of $50,000

Use $50,000 of general fund revenues to pay for the 3 percent rate increase called for by previous Ordinance.

“If we did all three of those we would have to transfer $130,000 from the general fund into the water and sewer fund,” said Begos.

“We can't provide discounts unless we replace that money with funds other than water and sewer revenue. We can't just cut rates,” he said. “We may need to spend $10 million to $15 million on water and sewer upgrades over the next five years. Obviously, we hope for major grant support. But we cannot expect 100 percent grant support.”

Begos said he has been pleasantly surprised to learn that even with the COVID-19 pandemic closures, “sales tax numbers are still up. Sales taxes and property taxes are still coming in. Somebody is selling a lot of stuff.”

He said Bebeau has so far found upwards of $50,000 in savings from tighter fiscal management.

Begos said the city was able to give employees a 1 percent raise, as well as improve the quality and cost of the health care plan for employees.

“It was terrible for the last two years. We upped that back to a decent plan,” he said.

He said the city also has repaid monies it owes to the Community Redevelopment Agency, about $160,000 in tax increment financing that should have remained in CRA coffers.

For the time being the city has put off selling City Hall, he said. “We never got a serious offer,” Begos said. “We’re hoping to rent out space.”

This article originally appeared on The Apalachicola Times: Apalachicola rolls back millage, plans utility help

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