SANFORD: City budget up for Monday meeting, Tuesday vote

Jun. 16, 2013 @ 05:02 AM

City leaders will hold a final budget workshop Monday before taking action on Sanford's $44.1 million proposed budget Tuesday night.

Originally, a budget meeting was not scheduled before the Tuesday vote, but Sanford City Council members will now debate the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, a final time at the 4 p.m. Monday meeting at the Sanford Municipal Center, located at 225 E. Weatherspoon St. Council member Charles Taylor requested the additional meeting during last week's Law and Finance Committee session.

Some council members said they were interested in leaving the budget as is — including a 7 cent property tax increase from revenue neutral, cuts to nonprofits and a 2 percent increase for water and sewer rates — while others are calling for additional cuts to the proposed property tax rate of 58 cents per $100 valuation.

There wasn't a need for another budget meeting, according to Council member Walter McNeil, but said he intends to listen to other suggestions made during the session.

"I think it's a good budget for what we have to work with," he said.

Council member Samuel Gaskins said the number one priority during the workshop should be determining the property tax rate. He anticipates council will lower the proposed tax rate but it depends on the disposition of the council members. 

"The city manager and city staff have been working diligently and have been extra cooperative in what we are trying to do," Gaskins said. "… There are people who are making confirmed statements about what city council is going to do and it's doing an injustice to the staff who are working very hard to accomplish what city council has asked them to do."

Giving city employees a 1 percent cost-of-living adjustment was a priority for Council member L.I. "Poly" Cohen but it was voted down during a city council retreat.

"We are going to see what happens," he said. "I hope we can cut the (property tax) increase, but we'll see what happens."

Council member Jimmy Haire said he is interested in cutting the city's fuel budget and postponing paving city streets in the coming year. That alone, he said, could cut two or three pennies on the tax rate, but comes with some disadvantages.

"I don't want to hold off on paving, but I don't want to go up on the rate," Haire said. "All of this is going to bite you someday. We wouldn't have had a problem if the sales tax (distribution) hadn't been changed."

The city lost $1.4 million in revenue when the Lee County Board of Commissioners voted to change the sales tax distribution method.

Taylor said he's glad a budget workshop was scheduled and he hopes to cut from two to four cents in the property tax rate.

"To trim off three or four cents, that helps a lot," he said. "It's not passing an unnecessary burden on the taxpayers."

The council members need to review the city's vehicle purchases, he said, as there are some vehicles slated to be replaced which only have 60,000 miles on them.

"And these are probably serviced better than some of our cars," Taylor said. "Just look at our shop budget. I don't like the fact that we are spending money on vehicles we don't need to replace."

Council members Rebecca Wyhof and J.D. Williams couldn't be reached for comment.

During the Tuesday meeting, council will also hold a public hearing for the proposed $14.5 million bond referendum which, if approved by the voters, would fund several "community-defining" projects.