Apalachicola city commissioners didn’t make any commitments, but it looks like taxes won’t be going up, and may be coming down.
In a budget for the upcoming fiscal year unveiled by City Administrator Lee Mathes Tuesday evening at the first budget workshop, the millage for this year, 9.345 mills, if left unchanged, will yield $1.2 million, about $61,000 more.
Expenditures are expected to rise from $1.92 to $1.97 million, so the deficit would go from about $22,000 this year to nearly $34,000 next year. The cash carried forward from year to year would drop to $405,000, down from $414,000 this year.
If the rollback rate were adopted, the city would raise $1.17 million, a little more than this year, and the deficit would climb to more than $65,000.
Most all the budgets remained constant, although there were a number of increased areas of expenditure,
Quasi-judicial hearings, required of all special exception and variance requests, are expected to cost about $10,000 next year, well above the $1,000 spent this year.
The budget calls for spending about $36,000 more for planning and grant contract services, and $10,000 for building inspector services.
In addition the budget calls for spending $6,000 for senior services, to fill up a deficit created with the withdrawal of $6,000 in county funding.
Main Street Apalachicola has asked for $14,500 to help fund the annual July 3 Independence Day fireworks celebration, which ad been funded entirely with private donations.
Mathes broke down the cost of the city maintaining its stock of buildings, which include the Battery Park Community Center, Holy Family Center, Sixth Street Recreation Center, the former Apalachicola High School, gym and field house, the public restrooms downtown the Raney House and Apalachicola Center for History Culture and the Arts.
“I asked the insurance company to give me an itemized list of what our property costs us, and made the facility budget a separate thing,” said Mathes. “We have historic buildings and the insurance alone is not cheap.”
The line item indicates that the facilities cost about $90,000 annually to maintain, including $37,500 in liability and property insurance.
Commissioner Brenda Ash led the discussion on the budget, beginning with the library, whose budget went from $61,000 to $71,000, in large part due to the $8,400 cost of funding a library clerk at 20 hours a week at $8.08 an hour.
Librarian Caty Greene said federal funds that had covered the cost of the clerk had run out. “She’s really come a long way, we really love her at the library,” said Greene.
Ash requested a prospective on how expenses would be taken care of in the future. “We’re up to $71,000 and it’s only going to increase with the new library,” she said. “How are we going to foot that bill (for all departments) unless we increase taxes? I’m not just picking on the library. This is for all the departments and I’m not for raising taxes. We’re going to be in the hole.”
The city’s next budget workshop is at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 23.
In other business, the commissioners approved a 10-month contract with former City Administrator Betty Taylor Webb, who is now fully retired and in private practice at her home as a consultant.
City Attorney Pat Floyd said the state had reviewed the proposed contract with BTW Services Inc. and found it in compliance with all retirement rules.
Apalachicola resident George Coon said he had issues with the contract, which calls for BTW to receive $1,200 a month for 10 months for a scope of work that includes about seven major projects that Taylor-Webb had been an integral part of. Any additional work would be billed at $40 an hour, and all would be subject to approval by the city commission.
Coon said the contract prevents Taylor-Webb from doing a work for a private contractor that is in conflict with the scope of work found in the BTW contract.
“It doesn’t very far, who monitors that?” he asked. “If she is consulting with any contractor, she can’t advise the city on anything, or she can advise the city and drop the other contract,”
Coon also asked whether this BTW contract had gone out to public bid.
Apalachicola resident Brianna Wheatley suggested wording be added to the contract that would further limit and specify how any new projects would be handled, but the commissioners did not act on the request. She also said the $40 an hour was too high, given that it was more than Taylor-Webb’s hourly with the city.
Floyd replied that “$40 an hour is half of what a mechanic charges when he works on your car. I would say that it’s well in line with the consulting work. Also, there are litigation matters that we have that no else except Betty is in a position to advise. There is nobody that has as much knowledge as she does to enable us, to facilitate for us going forward with those particular suits.”
Mayor Van Johnson said the individuals speaking out were misinformed regarding Taylor-Webb’s working for other private contractors related to her scope of work.
“I would think Betty would be smarter than to do something like that,” he said. “You may not have the confidence in her but I do.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to approve the contract.