The arrival of the federal COVID-19 relief funds will bring extra cash to Polk County’s budget over the next year, but property owners can also expect to pay a little more tax if the commission approves the staff-recommended tax rate.
With the county closer to passing a proposed $ 2.1 billion budget in September, commissioners will vote Tuesday on a proposal to keep the tax rate at the same level as this fiscal year. Since this rate is higher than the rollback rate, it means a tax increase for most homeowners.
So far we have reported the following about the budget:The Polk County Sheriff wants more staff and is firmly against body cameras
The proposed tax rate is necessary to catch up on the county’s lost revenue during the Great Recession, continue to provide the same services and programs to residents, cut necessary road projects in response to growth, and hire 55 additional positions, district officials say.
The tax rate also prepares the county for a move that Florida voters approved in November regarding the minimum wage that could have costly implications in the future, officials say.
County manager Bill Beasley told the commission at a July 13 meeting that he and his staff had presented a “responsible” budget.
“I believe this is what you expected, and my heart tells me that it will surely serve the citizens of Polk County in meaningful and productive ways.”
The meeting on Tuesday begins at 9 a.m. in the meeting room of the district administration complex W. Church St. 330 in Bartow.
Same tax rate. Why is it a tax hike?
The rollback rate is the rate required to achieve the same revenue as last year. If property value is increasing at a rate of 9.3%, like this year, then a lower rate is required to generate that income.
The County Commission will vote Tuesday on a tax rate of $ 6.89 per $ 1,000 of estimated property value. That’s higher than the rollback rate of $ 6.61 per $ 1,000 of property value.
At the proposed tax rate, the owner of a home valued at $ 200,000 after homestead exemption pays $ 1,034 in tax. That’s $ 43 more than if the county adopted the rollback rate.
At the tax rate, the county expects revenue of $ 43.5 million from taxes paid by property owners, 19% more than this year.
State law does not allow counties to impose tax rates in excess of $ 10 per $ 1,000 property value.
District Commissioner Martha Santiago told The Ledger she was glad the district was able to keep the tax rate the same as this year, taking into account all of its needs.
“We have an infrastructure deficit of $ 1.1 billion, so there is still a lot of catching up to do,” she said. “We didn’t raise (the tax rate), and we didn’t bring it down on the rollbacks. We’re just not there yet. ”
to fulfill needs
The county kept tax rates unchanged during the Great Recession even as taxable revenues plummeted, said Todd Bond, the county’s chief financial officer and county assistant manager. He estimates the county lost hundreds of millions of dollars in that five-year period between 2008 and 2013.
“The values went down and we could have increased the (tax) rate during that time,” he said. “We have lost so much sales”
And while the county expects to receive $ 140 million from the federal government’s US bailout plan, it is restrictive in its use and cannot meet all needs, Bond said.
For example, Polk County’s Roads Wish List includes 66 projects valued at $ 450 million.
However, according to budget documents, there are 99 unfunded projects for a total of $ 1.4 billion.
“We’ve lost revenue over the years, and now we’re kind of recovering and trying to do some of the things we couldn’t do,” said Bond.
Minimum wage voting could be expensive
A plan for next year’s budget is to pull $ 4 million from the county’s general fund and invest in road and drainage projects.
The district leaders have also proposed adding 55 new jobs, bringing the district total to 2,189.
In addition, the district must prepare for the future. Florida voters approved raising the minimum wage to $ 15 an hour in 2020, a measure that will take effect in 2026.
Read:Minimum wage of $ 15 approved for Florida vote in 2020
That change would result in an expensive overhaul of the Polk County’s pay structure, Bond said. Not only will the salaries of lower government officials be raised to this new minimum wage, but supervisors and long-term employees would also ask for a raise.
“I would like to see us move on to the rollback rate,” said Commissioner Neil Combee. “The problem is, with increased costs and hourly wage requirements, it’s not effective. The voters voted in favor and now you have to play the cards that are dealt to you. “
He added, “I don’t know if there will be any way to lower (the tax rate) a bit. I am satisfied with what is proposed. “
County Commissioner Bill Braswell made a similar statement.
“If our expenses go down, it will be one thing, but nothing will get cheaper,” he said. “We have to take in more because we spend more.”
Dustin Wyatt handles government affairs for Polk County and the entire county. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @LLDustin_Wyatt.