Florida Keys News - Key West Citizen
Wednesday, July 31, 2013
County sets higher tax rate

The Monroe County Commission set a tentative property tax rate on Tuesday that would raise taxes in the upcoming fiscal year by 2.6 percent from the current year.

The commission voted 3-2, with County Mayor George Neugent and Commissioner Heather Carruthers dissenting, to levy a property tax rate of $400 per $100,000 of taxable value. The rate is 2.7 percent over rollback -- the rate that would generate the same amount of tax revenue as the previous year.

County Administrator Roman Gastesi proposed a budget that came in at rollback, but would have taken $4.9 million out of reserves to balance the budget.

Commissioner Danny Kolhage instead proposed -- and a majority of the commission approved -- raising the tax rate above rollback to spare the use of reserves.

Otherwise, it would have marked the second straight year the county took about $4 million out of reserves to balance the budget.

Kolhage was concerned that if the commission did not modestly raise taxes this year, it might have had to raise them dramatically later, he said.

The tax rate the commission approved Tuesday allowed the commission to keep an extra $2 million in reserves.

The commission left open the possibility of reducing the tax rate when it finalizes the rate on Sept. 12 in Key West.

Carruthers voted against the tax rate and the accompanying budget because it included a 3 percent raise for employees.

The county has began soliciting firms to conduct a salary study to determine if county employees' salaries are correct and based on their skill level and responsibilities.

Carruthers did not want to dole out raises until the study was completed, and it will most likely not be by the time the commission finalizes the budget in September, county officials said.

"Staff works hard and I am proud of what they do," said Carruthers, who noted that county employees, on average, earn $73,000 a year when health and retirement benefits are included.

"We need to make sure they are adequately compensated and reflective of their skill set and responsibilities."

Neugent seemed to be opposed to approving a tax rate and budget that called for increasing taxes, as the tax rate Gastesi proposed came in at rollback.

tohara@keysnews.com

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