By cutting corners, Carrabelle city commissioners plan to increase the millage rate by a half-mill, from 8.27 to 8.77 mills, and expect some homeowners may actually see a decrease in their tax bills.

By cutting corners, Carrabelle city commissioners plan to increase the millage rate by a half-mill, from 8.27 to 8.77 mills, and expect some homeowners may actually see a decrease in their tax bills.

City Clerk Keisha Smith said the change is not considered a tax increase since the rollback rate, which would keep overall revenues constant, is 10.42 mills. This year, the city’s combined valuation dropped $28 million, from $130.9 million to $102.9 million, or by just over 25 percent.

“Use my house as an example,” she said. “At 9.27 mills (the original proposed millage), it would only raise my taxes $10. At 8.77 mills, it should be tax neutral. I may even see a decrease because property values have dropped so much.”

Ad valorem revenue for the city during the upcoming fiscal year will be $902,000, down $188,000 from the $1.09 million collected during the 2011-12 fiscal year.

“It’s not just ad valorem taxes,’ said Smith after the meeting. “Franchise fees, and communications service tax went down too. We’re not getting as much on anything.”

Smith said she cut the budget by $130,000 before presenting it to the commission. They then shaved an additional $52,000 off the approved spending.

At the first budget hearing Sept. 6, commissioners voted unanimously to cut an already bare bones budget and lower the proposed millage rate from 9.27 to 8.77 mills.

The biggest single cut was $28,000 to hire a third employee for the streets and roads department, a position approved in last year’s budget but never filled. Former city commissioner Gathena Parmenas pointed out that the city could hire a part-time person with no benefits if the need arose.

Parmenas asked why the utility bill for parks and recreation had shown a dramatic increase. City staff said they had budgeted $18,000 to cover increased water for the new landscaping along US 98.

Parmenas said the plantings were over a year old and well established. The utility budget was reduced to $10,000. In a telephone interview, Smith said the city has not run sprinklers on the plants this summer due to plentiful rainfall.

The community celebration budget was cut from $12,000 to $1,500, with the latter earmarked to pay for half of the fireworks at the annual Holiday on the Harbor celebration in December.

There is no funding for July 4 fireworks and there will be no free food at the Christmas celebration. The free lunch traditionally served after the Camp Gordon Johnston Days parade also has been cut for the upcoming year.

Money budgeted to pay professional consulting fees, for instance fees charged by an engineer, was cut by 50 percent, to $4,000. “We’ll just have to be a little more choosey about our projects,” Smith said.

The final major cut was $1,000 from funds to train volunteer firemen and first responders. Smith said the funds for training will be drawn from MSBU fees this year.

Smith said there were no significant changes to the water and sewer budget. She said rates were adjusted earlier this year and no additional increase to the water rates should be necessary for at least three years.

Commissioner Brenda LaPaz said the city is contemplating raising the sewer fee.

Smith said the increase may be necessary because a payment will come due sometime this year on Carrabelle’s new water treatment facility. She said the city planned to use interest from money held in escrow to make the payment, but interest rates have dropped.

Parmenas questioned a sharp reduction in salaries for administrative employees. Smith said half of the salary for accounting has been transferred to the budget for water and sewer, because the staff spends significant time on water and sewer matters. She said the city paid the entire amount when water and sewer was short of funds, but now the department could afford to resume paying a portion of the salaries.

Parmenas said that when the city was paying the salary of an accountant who spent part of her time working for water and sewer, it was the equivalent of a loan and would have to be paid back. She suggested that the city issue a special memorandum stating that the money would be paid back over time.

“A special memorandum doesn’t hold you to a hard and fast amount but establishes the idea that the money will be repaid,” said Parmenas.

Commissioners voted unanimously to accept both the tentative millage and budget.

The second meeting to finalize the new budget will be held on Monday, Sept. 24 at 5:01 p.m. in the meeting room at the Carrabelle Municipal Complex.