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Cedar Key commissioners voted 4-0 last week during a city budget workshop to set a tentative city tax rate at 4 mills, which, if approved during later budget hearings, would be an increase from last year's rate of 3.65 mills.
A mill represents $1 of tax assessment per $1,000 of assessed property value. For example, at 4 mills, someone owning a house in Cedar Key worth $100,000, would pay $400 in property taxes. Commissioners could still come down on the tax rate in future meetings.
The proposed budget (based on 4 mills) comes to $1,168,651, plus an anticipated carryover of $111,275 for a total of $1,279,926. Anticipated final revenues for this year are expected to be $1,113,282.
One line item potentially getting an increase will be the police department's Holiday and Festival budget. Commissioners said $2,500 more next year should help cover the costs.
Cedar Key Police Chief Virgil Sandlin said, "We've been working with a skeleton crew."
Commissioner Sue Colson agreed that the police department should get more money, adding that the city has been lucky so far, with only minor incidents.
At Tuesday night's budget meeting, Robert Robinson, the city's fire chief, said he needs more money, as well. Robertson, who is also the head of the city's Emergency Operations Center, told commissioners that the department may be in trouble financially, considering recent talks by county officials asking for cuts.
He also explained to the commission that the county is considering shutting down the Fowlers Bluff and Rosewood departments and merging them into Cedar Key, which could also affect the department’s budget.
Robinson said he needs a lot of things to keep his department running. The list includes an AED (Automated External Defibrillator) and DSL wireless service for the community center. This would serve the community during both emergencies and for business events that are held in the community center. He also requested funding for a laptop to replace the fire department’s old computer, a satellite phone for emergencies, white boards, food, water and first aid station supplies.
Other line items include annual physicals and stress tests for the volunteer firefighters. Robinson also pointed out the need to replace the 10 air packs that are more than 10 years old. They cost about $3,000 each, but he said he was fairly confident that a grant could be obtained to help cover that cost.
Robinson also wants to set aside any surplus funds for an emergency and capital improvement fund, beginning with $5,000 this year, however the commission made it clear that would likely not be possible this year.
Another option to raise money for capital improvements would be a fire assessment fee. The money would be used to replace equipment, especially trucks - some of which “are rusting out from under us.”
Robinson pointed out that, “The city is a business and you are the CEO’s,” emphasizing the need to plan ahead for the future. Commissioner Gene Hodges was consistent in his objections, reminding the commission that he is against any assessments of any amount and for any purpose.