Mayor: Changes to budget cripple 'city's ability to serve'

Financial plan keeps property tax rate, cuts funds for some services
Jun. 20, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

The City of Sanford was able to maintain its property tax rate in the coming fiscal year, but only after cutting all funds for street paving and increasing the solid waste fee by $25, among other items. 

Sanford City Council debated the 2013-2014 budget late into the evening Tuesday, with Councilman Samuel Gaskins making the motion to approve the budget while maintaining the city's 54 cent per $100 valuation property tax rate. The change from the City Manager Hal Hegwer's proposed budget — which included a property tax rate of 58 cents per $100 valuation — prompted some stern words from Sanford Mayor Cornelia Olive. 

"I have to say, it looks like to me, we are crippling the city's ability to serve," she said.

No one wants to raise taxes, Olive said; however, she added, the diversion from the proposed budget was a disservice to the council members and city staff who didn't have time to assess the full impact of the cuts made to accommodate the flat rate during the meeting.

"I am disappointed this radical change was brought up during the meeting," Olive said after the session. "We've been reviewing the budget for the past several weeks."

During a Monday budget session, Gaskins said council members should strive to maintain the property tax rate despite losing $1.6 million when the Lee County Board of Commissioners voted to change the sales tax distribution method in April.

"I have spoken with most of you individually and ask that we listen to the results of the studies by the city staff and make every effort to maintain the tax rate at its current 54 cents," Gaskins said, reading from a written statement Monday.

The motion should not have come as a surprise, Gaskins said Wednesday, adding that he had spoken to almost every council member and the mayor beforehand.

"I think after it was brought up Monday, it was pretty evident where cuts could be made," he said. "Those weren't new ideas."

To retain the 54 cent property tax rate, the city cut the following from the budget:

* $500,000 for paving city streets

* $83,000 for maintaining street curbs and gutters

* $79,000 from the fuel budget

* $48,000 from the contingency fund, used for unexpected grant projects and expenses. After the cut, there will be $51,000 left in the fund.

The council also voted to raise the Solid Waste fee by $25, up to $150 from $125 per year.

Before the official vote on the budget, each of the council members were polled to see if the majority agreed with the cuts. Council members Rebecca Wyhof and Charles Taylor voted against increasing the Solid Waste fee, and Taylor was also the lone vote against the budget ordinance.

The 2013-2014 budget goes into effect July 1.

In other matters, Council:

* Proclaimed Friday as ASK Day. Several law enforcement agencies will promote gun safety among families from 3-9 p.m. Friday at Depot Park, located in downtown Sanford.

* Appointed several individuals to various boards and commissions.

* Established an exploratory committee to look into developing a sister city relationship with Yixing, China.