ORANGE PARK – The town council tentatively approved its 2020-21 fiscal year budget and did so with one of its five chairs remaining vacant.
The council still hasn’t decided who will replace previous town mayor Connie Thomas’ seat. It’s narrowed the search to two candidates but with four council members currently on the dais, the board remains split, 2-2. The vote between Daniel Cobreiro and Virginia Hall have been deadlocked for two months.
A tentative budget was passed by a 4-0 vote nonetheless during the Sept. 15 meeting.
“The [tentative] budget for fiscal year 2020-21 includes a proposed millage rate of 5.8781 and the current rolled back rate is 5.6320,” town manager Sarah Campbell said.
Campbell said the proposed millage rate exceeds the current rolled back rate by 4.40%. The rolled back is the rate the town’s millage would need to be in order to make exactly as much money as it did through the millage. The town opted instead to keep its millage rate the same as last year.
Last year’s millage rate was 5.871, and this year’s is set to be the same although residents will see an increase in their taxes despite the exact same millage rate. This is because property values increased which means will likely pay more in taxes.
“The tax digest increased by 4.8% from $539 million to $620 million, which at a 96% collection rate, would generate $3,508,870 in ad valorem revenue for the town in 2020-21 fiscal year,” Campbell said.
The tentative budget approved Tuesday night breaks up into many different categories based on the town’s previously decided strategic priorities. It includes $6.6 million for public safety, $851,000 for waterways and infrastructure, $50,000 for strategic planning and visioning and an increase in revenue and general fund by 1.7%.
Campbell said the sales tax capital project fund shows a slight decline while the water and sewer fund revenue shows a modest increase, with several new users predicted to join the town’s water system in the coming year. The budget also includes $25,000 for visioning follow-up and $45,000 for the development of architectural standards for the town.
“The town’s grant program has extended exponentially,” Campbell told the council. “There are currently 31 grants that have been applied for, submitted or awarded, and $3.5 million has been included to pay for grants programs.”
There’s also the inclusion of $150,000 in the budget to bring employee pay up to the market range and another $50,000 included to increase efficiencies within the operations of the town hall building, which Campbell said could potentially create additional revenue generation for the town.
She concluded her budgetary breakdown by explaining to the council that expenditures have decreased by .99% and that personnel increases of 3% have been offset by operating costs reduced by 2%, and that $3.9 million is anticipated for expenses in the stormwater fund.
“Of that, $825,000 are for personnel and capital improvements and the other $3.1 million is going toward the voluntary home buyout grant to restore conservation land.”
The council approved the tentative budget with a 4-0 vote after holding the first of its two public hearings for the budget. The final public hearing will happen later this month and it’s then that the council will vote to approve the final budget.