City property owners would pay more in budget proposal

City of Melbourne property owners, including those on a swath of South Brevard’s barrier island, can expect to pay more in the coming months to support city services than they did this past year.

Unless City Councilman Tim Thomas can convince his colleagues otherwise. “We’ve got to do better than this, guys. … We have a spending problem,” he said last week, adding that he would like to hold the line at the “rolled-back rate,” which would essentially bring in the same tax dollars as the current year.

Thomas dissented as his fellow council members took a 6-1 vote, on first reading, approving City Manager Shannon Lewis’ $206.36 million proposed budget.

Lewis’ plan calls for a continuation of the current tax rate of $7.19 per $1,000 of taxable property value. The lower rolled-back rate would be $6.80. If the $7.19 rate passed the final budget hurdle, the city’s increase in property value from last year – $5.39 billion, up from $4.97 billion – means the same rate will bring $3 million more from taxpayers for the budget that goes into effect Oct. 1.

The added revenue, part of a total $36.8 million in property taxes, comes from new construction and increased valuations of existing properties since last year.

City Finance Director Jeff Towne said the $3 million in added revenue would go toward repaving more roads and improving stormwater drainage systems.

But Thomas wanted more for those services. For example, he pointed to the city being $25 million behind in its 2015 Pavement Management Plan. The plan requires the city to spend approximately $6.5 million a year to keep up its roads.

The proposed budget calls for $3.5 million toward roads. That’s still $3 million less than what the plan calls for, Lewis told the council, “but it is progress.”

Thomas pointed to what he said is wasteful spending, including:

n $57,500 in grants to local charities.

n Continuing to keep, rather than sell, the Mallard Landings Golf Course, which Towne said would lose $285,000 in the new budget year.

n Meals at state or local League of Cities meetings, as part of the budget’s $25,479 for the council’s operations.

Councilman Mark LaRusso, whose district includes the city’s part of the barrier island, asked staff to shift his proposed League of Cities budget to lobbying trips to Tallahassee. LaRusso has called for more presence by his colleagues as state lawmakers are in session.

Thomas didn’t get any of the cuts he demanded last week.

“But there’s the next meeting,” he said, pointing to the final reading at 5:30 p.m. on Sept. 25.

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