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Fire Board sets tentative millage at 3.600

July 29, 2020
By PAULETTE LeBLANC ( , Pine Island Eagle

On July 22, the Matlacha Pine Island Fire Control Board held its monthly meeting with commissioners and staff discussing the possible reduction of the current millage rate, which has been set, pending budget hearings in the fall, at 3.6000 mils.

The title of the resolution of proposed levy of ad valorem taxes in Lee County for fiscal year 2020-2021 was read by financial advisor Renee Lynch. The resolution establishes the first step in the adoption of next year's budget, by setting the proposed, or maximum millage rate available to the district.

The millage rates can be reduced later during the September budget hearings, said Lynch, explaining that based on this resolution the highest rate available to the district would be adopted.

She then announced the proposed rollback rate, based on the draft budget she had established with Fire Chief Ben Mickuleit, at 3.6085 mils. The date time and place proposed is Wednesday, Sept. 9, at 5:01 p.m, which Lynch says follows the normal course of business, where the first public hearing on the budget is held two weeks prior to the district's commission meeting.

In fiscal year 2010-2011, the district established a six year 3.0 millage rate, which at the time was the maximum millage rate. The passing of the 2016 referendum changed the rate to 3.75 mils, where it has remained. The proposal this year, Lynch said, is for the rollback rate, making it the first time in over 10 years that the district has been able to reduce the millage rate from the maximum.

There has been some question regarding available revenue if the millage rate is reduced below the rollback rate. Lynch then announced the gross revenue generated by the rollback rate is $6.465 million. At this rate, the ending fund balance is targeted at 17 percent, which would generate an unassigned ending fund balance of $2.095 million. If the rollback rate is reduced to 3.55 mils, the gross revenue would be $6.36 million, which would be a direct reduction of the ending fund balance to $1.994 million, or 34 percent rather than 36 percent, reducing total revenue to the district by $104,810.

At 3.50 mils, said Lynch, the gross revenue would be $6.27 million, which would leave a 33 percent ending fund balance and a revenue reduction below the rollback rate of $194,000.

She suggested that although it's possible to reduce the millage rate, setting the maximum millage rate is advisable, since the district has not yet received quotes on workers compensation, or health insurance renewal.

While Lynch recommended the formerly mentioned rollback rate of 3.6085 mils, Commissioner John Cammick disagreed.

"3.6085 is doing nothing," said Cammick. "You're not giving the taxpayers back any money. All you're doing is taking money from them at the same rate you've always taken it."

Cammick said due to the increase in property values, the rate appears lower, although the same amount of money would be acquired under this millage rate. He proposed a new rate of 3.55 instead.

Commissioner Ken Cox suggested waiting to make a decision.

"If we don't make an action tonight, we can have more confidence in what we're doing," said Cox.

Commissioner Valcarcel pointed out that setting it at the 3.6085 rate proposed by Lynch, could still be changed to the 3.55 rate suggested by Cammick at September's budget hearing.

"We're not actually setting it tonight," said Valcarcel, "but we're setting a precedent that we won't go higher than that and we can go lower than that in September. It's not changing what they're paying this year, it's going to change what they pay next year."

Valcarcel explained that a compromise may be the way to go, adding that due to the increase in average property appraisals and development, they should be able to stay within their budget, even if they went with the lower rate later.

Valcarcel proposed setting the suggested rate of 3.6085 mils, until the budget meeting.

District attorney Robert Pritt reminded commissioners that although the rate can go down later, once set, it cannot go up. He also appealed to ongoing and also potential problems, which need to be taken into consideration in making this decision.

"Right now we have hurricanes in front of us, we have COVID, we have breakdowns in society," said Pritt. "You have two hearings in Septemberthe tentative budget hearing, there can be cuts made, but you can't go higherand your final budget hearing and the setting of your final millage rateso just be very careful in case there's something that happens that you have not anticipated. Between now and then, you may need to have that room to move down."

Cammick reiterated that he'd like to reduce the rate.

"I'd like to reduce it some, at least, for our peopleand I do agree we could probably go to what I want to do a little later," said Cammick, "but I would like to shave a little bit off the fallback rate, so it looks like we actually did something."

Valcarcel then proposed going to 3.60 mils. Cammick then made a motion to go with that rate. Commissioner

Neil Price submitted the difference between 3.60 versus 3.6085 is negligible.

"I'm inclined to take a staff recommendation here," said Price, speaking of the draft budget proposal of 3.6085, "understanding that one, it's a rollback, and two, we will have further rollbacks anticipated."

Valcarcel made a second to the motion made by Cammick of the 3.60 mils rate, which was then unanimously approved by all commissioners.

Fire Chief Ben Mickuleit credits the Pine Island community for everything that's been accomplished so far with the station, equipment, and staff.

"We would not be the fire district we are without the support of the community," said Mickuleit. "If they hadn't voted for the previous millage rate, we would not have been able to serve them the way we have."



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