September 11, 2019

ISLAMORADA — Heading into the year’s final budget hearing on Wednesday, Sept. 11, an Islamorada Village Council majority seemed ready to vote on a property tax increase of about 6 percent.

In a first budget hearing Sept. 4, the council agreed 4-0 to advance a tax rate of 3.2 mills ($320 per $100,000 of assessed taxable property value) to the 5:30 p.m. Sept. 11 final hearing for fiscal year 2019-20.

The tax rate may be lowered at the final hearing but cannot be raised.

Islamorada’s municipal operating budget would be 2 percent lower than the current fiscal year, but the higher tax rate would go toward repaying about $2 million of a $2.5 million loan taken out for Hurricane Irma recovery.

Councilman Ken Davis called it “the snowball effect of debt.”

“We’re not taxing and spending, we’re taxing to save” on loan interest, Davis said.

If the 3.2-mill rate is approved, 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. The 2018-19 millage is $304 per $100,000 of taxable value.

Councilwoman Cheryl Meads, who did not attend the Sept. 4 hearing, said in August that she would not vote for the 3.2-mill rate.

In public comment Sept. 4, resident Larry Barr urged the council to adopt a tax rate closer to the rollback rate of 2.83 mills. The rollback rate is the tax rate needed to raise the same municipal funding as in the current year after adjusting for higher property valuations.

Trying to pay down a big percentage of hurricane debt would “put too much of a burden on the overall residents,” Barr said. “You’re nickel-and-diming us to death. … Try to do something to help us.”

Sue Miller of Lower Matecumbe Key said a proposal to add five new employees — three fire-and-ambulance staff, a code officer and a monitor for the Indian Key Fill area — “sounds like we’re spending a lot more every year than we need to.”

Village Manager Seth Lawless said Islamorada Fire Rescue hires would help reduce overtime-pay expenses.

“It also gives us more boots on the ground when we need them,” he said.

As proposed, the a 3.2-millage rate for Islamorada budget would generate approximately $11,410,600 toward the village’s overall $35.4 million in revenues.

Council members also voted on first reading to raise the annual residential trash-recycling cost by about 7 percent, to $455.65 per unit. Wastewater charges also may increase by 4 percent.

kwadlow@keysnews.com