ISLAMORADA -- Village officials expect to have plenty of time to complete budget negotiations this summer, despite starting discussions later than in previous years.
"I'm pretty confident about what we're doing right now," Councilman Dave Purdo said.
Village Manager Ed Koconis and Finance Director Maria Aguilar will unveil the preliminary daily operating budget ahead of a July 23 meeting and preliminary budgets for other funds, including the wastewater utility, ahead of a July 25 meeting.
Those time lines are similar to past years. What differs, however, is that the council didn't convene in June, as in previous years, to map out budget goals and to listen to preliminary expectations and requests from the village finance team and other department heads.
The move could reflect a growing confidence in the village's financial status.
This year, the village's tax roll is up for the first time since 2007, having jumped 4 percent, from $2.45 billion to $2.54 billion. That should make it easier to maintain or increase salaries and services without raising the tax rate.
In addition, the village is carrying $3.3 million in fund reserves from last year, and Aguilar has preliminarily informed the council that up to $400,000 extra could be available in the 2013-14 fiscal year.
This year's later start to budget discussions could also be a result of the conservative approach that Koconis has taken to budgeting during his first two summers as manager.
Unlike previous managers, who often presented larger and politically unpalatable preliminary budgets as the starting point of a negotiation, Koconis has presented more realistic documents, which have been received with less acrimony by the council. The result has been less debate and less bickering as well.
"I think this is a more efficient method of handling it," Vice Mayor Ted Blackburn said.
Still, the council does expect to take on some potentially controversial issues during this year's budget debate.
One is likely to be employee raises. Salaries in the village stagnated during the economic downturn. But with the handsome fund balance and the tax roll inching back up, Purdo says he wants 10 percent across-the-board raises.
"They deserve it," he said.
Council members also say they plan to discuss the feasibility of adding an extra person per shift for each of the village's three firehouses -- a measure advocated by new Fire Chief Terry Abel and by his predecessor, William Wagner III.
A third issue that is nearly certain to be debated during budget discussions is how much to allocate for legal services in the first year that the village works with a yet-to-be-hired staff attorney.
Councilwoman Deb Gillis, who opposed the move away from the contracted Weiss Serota law firm, said she expects legal costs to go up.
"Even if it's not tremendously different, we've got to flush that out during budget season," she said.
Purdo, who pushed for the change, also said legal costs could increase during the transition year.
The village will finalize the budget in September. The next fiscal year runs from October through September.