By Agrippina Fadel
The feeling at the final budget discussion for 2023 was similar to living through a hostage situation.
Negotiations for the final millage rate on September 22 took over six hours, leaving some members of the commission, along with city staff, visibly defeated.
After approving the do-not-exceed millage rate last week at 7.2000, the commissioners may have been prepared to lower it since both Vice Mayor Mike Gelin and Commissioner Marlon Bolton expressed their desire to see a 7.1000 rate.
What they didn’t expect was the endless game of seesaw, with Commissioners Debra Placko and Elvin Villalobos and Mayor Michelle Gomez pleading and reasoning with Gelin and Bolton to compromise for hours. To no avail.
The commission needed a majority vote to approve the millage rate; however, finding a solution that four out of five members would agree with proved difficult.
Gelin began by passing printed materials to the residents around the room in the middle of the public comments, prompting Gomez to ask City Attorney John Herin if “handing out propaganda” during the meeting was acceptable.
Gelin said the materials were his presentation on the budget.
He kept citing different sources throughout the meeting while advocating for a lower rate, including a quote from a resident’s email who said the numbers the city staff presented for the tax increase with the 7.2000 millage rate were “not accurate” because, as a new homeowner he will see a property tax that’s twice the size of last year, from $2,485 to $5,104. The city portion of his property taxes went from $523 to $1,405.
Both Villalobos and Gomez later stated that using a new homeowner’s tax increase as an argument in the millage rate discussion is misleading, as a resident purchasing the same home with a much higher value will pay more in taxes than the previous owner, and at the same time pay more if the house they sold was appraised at a lower value than the new home, no matter the millage rate.
When Gelin said the budget information presented by the staff does not paint the whole picture, Gomez reminded him that they are financial professionals who have no reason to lie or mislead the city commission or the residents.
With Gomez, Villalobos, and Placko advocating for the 7.2000 rate and Bolton and Gelin pushing for 7.0000, 7.1000 seemed like a natural compromise.
Yet, the motions to pass the millage rate kept failing, with Bolton and Gelin refusing to go above 7.0000 and the rest of the commission not willing to drop the rate that low, knowing that would mean the city budget would lose over $1M in revenue.
“Can we find a compromise here? I feel backed into a corner because we need four votes, and I don’t like that position. Can we work together to do what’s best for the city?” said Placko.
Villalobos often emphasized that everyone in the commission but Gelin and Bolton is willing to find the middle ground.
After another round of failed attempts to approve the rate, Herin explained should the commission not be able to approve the millage rate and the budget, the city would have to inform the department of revenue and place a special notice to all the residents.
“It is a time-consuming and expensive process that will put a strain on staff. The budget will automatically revert to the millage rate from the previous year, and the city will receive a penalty and lose all the state-sharing revenue,” he added.
Budget Manager Jeff Streder explained that between dropping back to the rollback rate and forfeiting state shared revenue and sales taxes, the city might lose $11M in revenue, which will affect city staff and services for the residents.
Gelin told his colleagues he would let the millage rate go back to the previous year’s level if the rest of the commission did not vote on the 7.0000 rate, saying, “this is how far I am willing to go.”
After close to five hours of failed negotiations, Gomez felt the city of Tamarac was being “pigeonholed, bullied, and strapped.”
“We are in a position where if we don’t come to a budget that is satisfying a couple of people on the commission who have made their stance, the city will not have a budget, lose funding and employees,” she added.
Gomez motioned to set the millage rate at 7.000, saying she was doing it “with extreme disdain for being put in this position.”
“It is my responsibility on behalf of the city to make sure this ship does not go down with the games being played. Everyone can clearly see what is going on here,” she said.
The commission approved the 7.0000 millage rate, which is 1.5613 mills or the 8.72% over rollback rate. Streder explained that the residents with a median taxable home would pay, on average, $12 more in taxes than last year.
The commission then discussed what could be cut from the budget to make up for the $1M the city will not receive with the lower rate.
In the end, City Manager Kathleen Gunn offered to present a list of possible cuts by getting rid of the $291K fitness zone in one of the parks, reducing the events budget by $127K, cutting the initiatives by $95K, and security master plan by $500K, for a total of $1,013.233.
The commission unanimously approved the suggested cuts and set the budget for the fiscal year 2023 at $242,974,613.
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- Agrippina Fadel grew up in Siberia and received her master's in journalism from Tyumen State University. Agrippina is also a writer and editor at Draftsy.net. She has been a US resident for over ten years and speaks English and Russian.
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