The Ocoee City Commission July 15 set a proposed, tentative property tax rate of 6.5 for the fiscal 2015 budget.
Commissioners adamantly stated the rate is an impermanent one and represents a “ceiling” that will come down. The tentative rate, they agreed, will give them leeway to make adjustments when they review the proposed budget at upcoming workshops and hearings. The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The tentative tax rate can be lowered during the budget hearings in September and has historically been done so by the city, City Manager Rob Frank said in a letter to the commission.
“There are going to be some residents complaining” about the tentative rate, Commissioner Joel Keller said. “But the 6.5 is just a play number” for now.
“I’d rather get it up higher than go low” initially, Commissioner Rosemary Wilsen said. “If not, you won’t get one stripe on the street.”
Ocoee’s overall assessed value increased by just more than $145 million from the prior year, and city Finance Director Wanda Horton and city staff had recommended the commission match the tentative tax rate to the current 5.78.
This rate would provide $10.2 million in property tax revenues, or $815,270 more than the current year’s total of about $9.4 million, according to city data.
The 5.5 rolled-back tax rate — at which the current tax base would produce the same taxes levied as the previous year — would generate $9.7 million, a total that takes into account higher property values and new construction.
And the 6.5 rate would produce almost $11.5 million, Horton said on July 16. For budgeting purposes, each of the amounts generated by the various tax rates represent 97 percent of the anticipated property tax revenue collections.
Wilsen on July 16 reiterated that, “It’s easier to set [the tax rate] a little higher and then back down than to set it low and go through all of the work to increase it.”
She said the city must ensure it does not end up with a “bare-bones” budget, especially in light of the desire to improve Ocoee’s downtown.
The city’s current strategic plan looks at ways to improve the downtown area, such as by attracting new restaurants and other businesses. And upgrading roads, utilities and other types of infrastructure for this area will cost money, Wilsen said.
“Residents want to stay in Ocoee to shop and to recreate,” she said. “No one wants to go up in taxes. But we have to answer the call of what our residents want.”
In the next two months, the commission will conduct two budget workshops and two budget hearings, each of which are open to the public.
The workshops will be held on Monday, Aug. 11, and Thursday, Aug. 21, and the hearings will take place on Monday, Sept. 8, and Wednesday, Sept. 17. Commissioners will cast a final vote on next year’s tax rate and budget at the Sept. 17 hearing.
Each of these meetings will start at 6 p.m. and take place at City Hall, 150 N. Lakeshore Drive.
“We welcome residents to come to our workshops and hearings to voice their opinions,” Wilsen said at the July 15 meeting.