Millage rate expected to stay the same in 2019-20
The City of Ocala's proposed general fund budget would increase by almost $9.5 million over last year thanks to a vibrant economy pushing up property values and driving more user fees for city services.
On Tuesday, the City Council held a budget workshop to introduce the city's proposed 2019-20 budget. Projected revenues from property taxes, permit fees, taxes on services and other fees grew the general fund budget to a proposed $118,658,794, an almost 9% increase over the approved 2018-19 budget of $109,205,149.
However, the council has amended the budget several times during this fiscal year and, thanks to those amendments, the budget now stands at $117,681,770. The fiscal year starts on Oct. 1.
The total proposed budget for the upcoming fiscal year is $820,374,511 up from $786,282,747.
In July, the council agreed to keep the city's property tax rate the same. However, an increase in property value means an estimated $2 million more in revenue for the 2019-20 fiscal year, or nearly $31 million total. The millage rate is 6.6177. The owner of a home with a taxable value of $100,000 will pay $661.77 in property taxes.
For the upcoming fiscal year, the city also approved an increase in the fire service user fee, with a small increase for residential properties but steep increases for non-residential properties. The city expects to raise an extra $1.2 million in revenue over the annual $8 million it currently collects.
The specter of a lawsuit challenging the legality of the fee subsided a bit this year after a judge ruled in the city's favor. But the case is under appeal with the 5th District Court of Appeal. If the city loses the action, it could find itself on the hook to refund millions in fees.
The major increases to the general fund budget include more than $2 million in additional salary and benefits and about $1.5 million more in capital expenditures. Much of the increase, about $2 million, will go to pay for a planned 10-person violent crimes task force at the Ocala Police Department.
The city also plans more than $29 million in capital improvement projects:
• $7.4 million for planned road and drainage projects including rehabilitation and improvement to roadways. Those are ongoing expenses.
• $6.7 million to replace city vehicles across several departments including $1.6 million for new sanitation vehicles, $1.3 million for police vehicles and almost $1.1 million for fire vehicles. The city spent $6 million in 2018-19 on fleet upgrades and expects to spend similar amounts until at least 2022.
• $3 million for renovations to an electric substation at 1101 SE First Terrace near downtown Ocala. That project is expected to cost $5.3 million and got $1.1 million last year and will get another $1.3 million in 2021.
• $1 million for sidewalks, streetscape and way-finding sign projects in downtown and west Ocala. Those improvements are expected to be completed by 2024 and cost a total of nearly $3 million.
• $750,000 to begin upgrading lift stations, which pump wastewater to the city's treatment facilities. Last year's water resources budget included $2 million to replace aging water mains around the city. Work on those projects continues including on South Magnolia Avenue in downtown.
The council listened during the budget presentation and had few questions.
Tammi Haslam, the city's budget director, said that while the outlook looks rosy right now, things could change quickly.
Councilman Justin Grabelle agreed.
"We're on a historic run here on economic improvement. We need to just realize there is an end and we don't know when that will be, so we always have to be prudent with every dollar we have and make sure we're spending taxpayers dollars wisely," he said.
The proposed budget will go before the council during two public hearings scheduled for Sept. 3 and 17 at 4 p.m. The council should vote on adopting the budget on Sept. 17.
Contact Carlos E. Medina at 867-4157 or firstname.lastname@example.org