August 14, 2019

ISLAMORADA — To pay off a chunk of Hurricane Irma debt and put away money for a potential future storm, the village of Islamorada may keep a proposed property tax rate of $320 per $100,000 of assessed taxable value for the next fiscal year.

Four council members at an Aug. 5 budget workshop said they lean toward keeping the 3.2-mill tax rate to be published for the Truth in Millage notices for the 2019-2020 fiscal year.

The 3.2-mill ceiling previously established by the council cannot be raised but still could be lowered at the two budget hearings scheduled Sept. 4 and Sept. 11.

A $2.5 million loan taken out for Irma expenses needs to be shrunk, Mayor Deb Gillis said. “We need to keep working at it.”

“The less we have to borrow, the less we have to pay interest on,” Councilman Ken Davis said.

Like governments throughout Monroe County, Islamorada was left with debts from the September 2017 hurricane that were expected to be reimbursed by the federal government. Those payments have been slow in coming.

If the 3.2-mill rate is approved at upcoming budget hearings in September, owners of a property with a taxable value of $500,000 would pay $1,600 in Islamorada municipal taxes — about $88 more than in current year. Higher property value assessments could raise the tax bill.

Florida Keys property owners also get bills for county, school and special-district taxes.

Islamorada’s 2018-2019 tax rate of 3.024 mills generated about $10.6 million toward the village’s general fund expenses of $14.6 million.

In the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, those general fund costs could rise to $18.8 million for loan repayment, staff raises, equipment purchases and overall operations.

“It’s not something that’s going to be well received by many,” Vice Mayor Mike Forster said of the tax rate. “But I believe the fund balance is a huge thing. It paid off in this last hurricane.”

“The only alternative is to slash and burn, not build pickleball courts, not buy new trucks or buy anything else for the next year,” Councilman Jim Mooney said.

Councilwoman Cheryl Meads objected to the proposed tax rate.

“I’m not going to do it,” she said. “I’m a libertarian at heart. That’s just the way I am.”

Davis said Islamorada residents appreciate services and amenities funded by the village.

“When we have a decline in services, we have a decline in the quality of life,” he said.

“If somebody has a grand plan, I’m all ears,” Forster said of the financial picture.

kwadlow@keysnews.com