Whether or not you agree with every item in Mr. McCartney’s commentary (See May 23 Times “Apalachicola cannot afford itself”), it should be an eye-opener for the city of Carrabelle. Some topics hit home hard. I too am concerned that our own city does not have a sufficient revenue base to support its future operational and maintenance needs. After careful budget planning and trimming over the past years, Carrabelle’s current revenues do support its existing basic needs, but with none to spare.
Carrabelle as well is confronted with costs to support the ongoing needs of its existing and future city operations. Not too long ago, the city was able to secure FDEP (Florida Department of Environmental Protection) state revolving fund loans for its two water treatment plants and advanced wastewater treatment plant, but those 30-year loans must be paid off. Carrabelle has ongoing maintenance and repairs costs for its infrastructure, roadways, airport, industrial building, river-walk, two museums, five public parks, two public fishing piers, two pavilions, two boat ramps, public parking areas, six public restrooms facilities, landscaping, streetlights, two cemeteries, numerous buildings, and more. While there have been a couple of staff promotions, most employees haven’t had a raise in six years. Costs for the employees’ benefits package are ever increasing as are the maintenance and replacement costs for city vehicles and heavy equipment required to maintain and manage our city.
Carrabelle doesn’t have the highest property tax millage rate in Florida either, but is one of the highest in the state at 9 mills. Carrabelle too should not raise its tax rate as an easy path for additional revenues. This would take the millage dangerously close to the state cap of 10 mills and would be a reckless decision. Raising the millage would leave the city without an emergency revenue source to fall back on in the aftermath of a catastrophic event.
Several alternative revenue possibilities were listed by the author. Some fit Carrabelle and some do not. Utilizing “cooperative efforts” with other agencies is an innovative prospect. Although some have argued against it, Carrabelle has recently adopted a few user-fee programs providing alternative revenue sources which appear to be working. The new boat ramp user fee is a good example. A few short years ago, fees for occupational licenses were raised, which had not been done since 1972. As the author mentioned in his report, a review of the county tax records could assist with revenues and would even out the tax burden. Only four years ago, it was discovered that an entire subdivision within the city was not being assessed.
The city of Carrabelle doesn’t have the luxury of a staff grant specialist/writer. Instead we depend on our engineers of record, administrator, and myself. We reach out as often as possible and as capable. The opportunity for grants needs to be boosted, but operating with an administrative skeleton crew makes any additional project a huge undertaking. Agencies like the ARPC (Apalachee Regional Planning Council) should not be overlooked for assistance in the area of grant applications.
As additional cost-cutting measures, the city administrator with the help of volunteers recently took on the duties of a previously paid airport manager, allowing the airport to be nearly financially self-sufficient and taking this burden off the taxpayers. The city administrator doubles up on duties, acting as the CRA (Community Redevelopment Agency) director along with the city clerk and city finance clerk who act as the CRA secretary and CRA finance officer, all with no additional salary.
The city recently began charging fees for services like issuing building permits and notary public service. Going forward, rents should be collected on all city-owned buildings, lands, and for use of facilities, services, and resources. Carrabelle’s resources are precious, must not be abused, and must not be wasted. These resources must be maintained and preserved for the use and enjoyment of all its citizens and visitors of today and tomorrow. City leaders should continue to develop opportunities in this area. No stone should be left unturned.
Why have I responded to Mr. McCartney’s report? I am extremely concerned about the “massive expenses to come” for the city of Carrabelle. We too have a “shopping list of potential revenue sources,” and yes, we too must have “proactive research and planning” to guide us in decision making for the future of our city. The leaders of today and the future should use clear and concise thinking, not be timid to learn from others with more expertise, use fair and balanced judgement, and simply use good business practices when decisionmaking at all times.
Mr. McCartney, your article is an eye-opener and it does hit home on several topics. Carrabelle’s citizens will vote in 2020 for their city officials. They too should be focused on the future of our city and how to best put the city’s resources to work to keep Carrabelle financially sustainable, functional, and viable.
Brenda La Paz is mayor of the city of Carrabelle.