After two hours of public hearings and delliberations, the commission agrees to cut $530,000 out of reserves, to trim the millage rate — citizens wanted them to tighten belts even more.

NORTH PORT — After a two-hour public hearing that featured wrangling, frustration and several failed motions Thursday night, the North Port City Commission agreed to cut about $530,000 in reserve funds and advance a proposed tax rate of of 4.0872 mills for the 2019-20 fiscal year city budget.

A final vote on the budget will come Sept. 19.

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The rate means property owners will pay almost $4.09 per $1,000 of taxable property value — or about 68 cents more per $1,000 of property value compared to the current fiscal year's tax rate of 3.4070 mills.

“We can’t sit here at a stalemate all night,” said Commissioner Vanessa Carusone, who saw another proposal she made, to use reserves to pay for $870,000 in recurring general fund expenses, go down to defeat. ”It’s this, or I might have to make another decision.”

Carusone was also on the losing side, along with Mayor Chris Hanks, in an effort to pass the advertised millage rate of 4.2056 mills.

Commissioners Jill Luke and Pete Emrich joined Carusone in approving the final compromise.

Both had previously favored a more drastic cut to 3.944 mills — which would have eaten up more reserves but put the city in greater jeopardy of cutting into the $9.3 million the city must keep in savings for a hurricane or major infrastructure failure, but were on the short end of that vote.

“This is a compromise that I think can work,” Luke said.

Hanks stood adamant that the city needed more revenue and that the debate to cut services had already occurred in hours of workshops that started in early summer.

He was joined in dissent by Vice Mayor Debbie McDowell, who wanted to cut spending significantly.

“We agreed on something for totally different reasons,” McDowell said to Hanks, after the rate of 4.2056 mills passed over their objections.

“Why are you so adamant about not cutting staff or any of the other expenses that can be cut,” McDowell asked her fellow board members.

Hanks bemoaned the 40 to 50 hours the commission spent arriving at the proposed budget and millage rate, “and now we have another schizophrenic board.

“At some point, the piper gets paid,” he added.

If the rate is adopted at the Sept. 19 hearing, property tax revenues would account for $18.327 million of a proposed $47.396 million general fund budget.

The overall city budget, which includes enterprise funds, is roughly $172 million.

The nondistrict budget was moved to a second reading on a 4-1 vote, with McDowell in dissent, because she did not approve the proposed millage rate.

Several people who spoke wanted the commission to rein in spending, too — though they targeted the $12 million North Port Aquatic Complex and $20 million in improvements planned for Warm Mineral Springs.

“You should prioritize needs vs. wants,” said Victor Dobrin, who added that noncore assets like Warm Mineral Springs and the aquatic center — which has not even opened yet — should be sold.

“Understand the constraints this city faces,” he added, referring to retirees like himself, who are on a fixed income. “We don’t have the money to expand the way we want.

“We have to stay within our means.”

Kevin Shaughnessy agreed, adding that if there are other funding sources for those projects, the city needs to do a better job of educating the public.

“Warm Mineral Springs, $20 million over the next five years, that scares the bejesus out of me,” he added.

City Manager Peter Lear later noted that the city has offered programs like those Shaughnessy suggested.

“They were advertised in multiple venues; they were just not attended,” he added.

Nick Trolli, who has run for both City Commission and state house, acknowledged that other commissions have “kicked the can” of tax increases down the road, “but let’s tighten our belts.”

Deliberations over the three districts, fire and rescue, solid waste and road and drainage, were still in progress late Thursday.