Ocoee citizens are just a few more steps away from seeing lower property taxes for the next fiscal year.
Ocoee commissioners voted unanimously during the first budget public hearing Sept. 11 to adopt a tentative millage rate of 5.50 — the current millage rate — for the 2019-20 fiscal year. The commission also voted unanimously to adopt the tentative budget for the upcoming fiscal year. The adopted tentative rate reflects the maximum number at which the commission can set the millage rate, and it is expected the commission will lower the millage later in the budget process. The final budget public hearing is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 25.
Millage rates are used to calculate property taxes, and it represents the amount of every $1,000 of the assessed value of a property. The total taxable value of a property is multiplied by the millage rate to calculate the property taxes.
Finance Director Rebecca Roberts said the city’s total budget is $82,723,857. The general fund budget is $52,402,264 and is balanced at 5.25 mills,0.25 lower than the tentative millage rate the commission approved. The city is able to lower the millage rate due to increasing ad valorem revenues brought in by economic development in recent years.
“The tentative rate of 5.50 is 0.3562 mills higher than the rollback rate (of 5.1438), or $1,033,055,” Roberts said. “The difference between the 5.25 mills and the rollback rate is 0.1062, or $308,004.
“Ad valorem taxes are used to finance city operations, including providing quality services, maintaining city infrastructure through capital projects and funding salaries for city employees as required to provide those services,” Roberts said.
Although the city is nearing the end of the budget process, Commissioner George Oliver discussed several different items for consideration that would require funding in the budget in the upcoming fiscal year. The most discussed item involved conducting a risk assessment along with a financial and operational audit of the city with the exception of the police and fire departments as those departments already undergo intensive audits by other agencies. Conducting a citywide audit is a matter former City Commissioner John Grogan has broached in the past.
“I’m still advocating for some funds to be able to bring in a third-party company to look at our city from a different set of lenses as it pertains to our finances and as it pertains to our operational effectiveness,” Oliver said. “I believe that we may find that there’s missed opportunities that we just could have missed through attrition to whatever means that happened. I believe that (we’ll be) able to find some opportunities that we have not (considered and) even find out ways that we’re doing things very well.”
Other commissioners agreed the city could benefit from the suggested risk assessment and audit. However, the cost of moving forward with them was a cause for concern because funding them could have an impact on the millage. Roberts, who has a background as an auditor, said the risk assessment could cost the city tens of thousands, and Assistant City Manager Craig Shadrix warned that — depending on the scope — the audit could cost even more than the risk assessment.
“Before we begin any audit, we first need to conduct … a risk assessment,” Roberts said. “You have to identify where is your greatest risk. Where should we be allocating the funds … to get the greatest gain. We haven’t done a risk assessment yet, so before … (an audit) we need to talk about how we go about having the risks that the city is facing addressed first and evaluated. … That is going to cost tens of thousands of dollars, because that would take many hours to be conducted correctly.”
The commission agreed to have staff look into the costs involved before taking any action on how to move forward.