Florida Keys News
Wednesday, August 6, 2014
Tiny towns have different takes on taxes

MIDDLE KEYS -- Property tax collections in Key Colony Beach would remain level in the coming year under the preliminary tax rate set by the town council last month. Meanwhile, Layton would increase its property tax collections by 49 percent under the tentative tax rate its council approved in July.

Both municipalities still have the opportunity to set a lower rate before final passage of the budget in September, but state law does not allow them to raise the rate above the preliminary figure.

At a meeting on July 15, the Key Colony Beach City Council unanimously approved a tentative tax rate of $228 per $100,000 in taxable property. The figure would raise $1.23 million during the 2014-15 fiscal year, the same as Key Colony Beach budgeted for this year. Mayor Geraldine Zahn said she doesn't expect the council to change the tax rate before final approval of the budget on Sept. 10.

Property taxes would finance the lion's share of Key Colony Beach's tentative $1.89 million daily operating budget, which is $37,000, or 2 percent larger, than this year's budget. More than $1 million of the budget is to go toward police and fire services for the town of 800 residents.

Among the recipients of the increase, said Zahn, would be Key Colony Beach's 11 employees, who are slated to receive 2.5 percent raises. In addition, the city plans to add $26,000 to its general fund reserves, which are primarily set aside for an unforeseen disaster. The fund already holds approximately $1.5 million, according to city staff.

Zahn said good management over the last few years is the reason Key Colony Beach is able to add to its reserve fund without raising property taxes.

"We always try to work within a tight budget," she said. "We work very hard at that."

The one significant infrastructure project that Key Colony Beach is contemplating in the coming year is a renovation of West Ocean Drive. The project is budgeted for $70,000 but is not part of the daily operating budget. Instead, it would be financed primarily by gas taxes.

In Layton, the City Council approved a tentative tax rate of $285 per $100,000 in taxable property at a meeting on July 10. Layton's tax rate during this fiscal year was $193 per $100,000 in taxable property. The higher rate would generate $140,000 for the town, up from the $94,000 in property tax revenue that it budgeted for this year.

The council will hold a budget workshop this Thursday, Aug. 7.

Though the tentative budget would increase tax collections by 49 percent, it calls for only a 6 percent increase, from $178,000 to $188,000, in daily operating expenditures. The remainder of the tax increase would replace the $38,000 in general fund reserves that the town of 200 used to finance general operations this year. The tentative budget doesn't call for the town to use any of the $204,000 it has left in general fund reserves over the coming fiscal year.

Mayor Norman Anderson declined to speak with the Free Press last week, asking instead that questions about the budget be sent to him via email

In an emailed response he noted that in the past Layton has reduced its tax rate between July and final budget passage. If that were to occur this year, he wrote, reserves funds would need to be used to replace the proposed tax revenue.

In an interview last week, Layton resident Laura Palmeiri cautioned that the city needs to find a balance between property taxes and using up its emergency reserves.

"We can't keep hoping that the value of the houses will go up," she said.

Under the proposed budget, most of Layton's new expenditures would go toward educational outlays within the building department and toward municipal elections. The city has budgeted $37,000 for building inspection services, up $3,000 from this year.

The $5,000 the town plans to spend on elections would be eliminated before the budget is finalized on Sept. 15 if no one decides to run against Anderson or incumbent council members Clark Snow and Clarlyn Kay Scott. Qualifying for the elections ends on Aug. 15.

rsilk@keysnews.com

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