CRESTVIEW — The City Council launched its review of the city’s 2014-15 budget at a Monday evening workshop dominated by discussion of the proposed fire assessment.
The proposed $29 million budget is balanced, City Clerk Betsy Roy said, and includes a 3 percent increase in expenditures over the current fiscal year.
Councilman Mickey Rytman said a proposed fire assessment — which would levy a fee on all the city's commercial and residential properties — would stymie business development while hurting residents on fixed incomes.
“Seeing another fire assessment tax on commercial development, I don't want to see that happen,” Rytman said. “I hate to put a burden on people.”
Council President Shannon Hayes said the assessment makes provisions for low-income residents, allowing them to apply for an exemption or reduction in the fee.
“What bothers me is the ones who aren't paying anything,” Hayes said.
Councilman Tom Gordon, who had favored the assessment if it meant a decrease in ad valorem taxes, said he could not support the proposal now that it appears to raise taxes on businesses.
“I can't be in favor of something that's going to make it harder for businesses to come to Crestview and provide good-paying jobs,” he said.
“I see it as a tax,” Councilwoman Robyn Helt said. “I am also not optimistic that the city would not be able to offset the amount of millage to offset that assessment.”
Helt said the proposal has no safeguards to prevent a future council from raising the millage again even if property owners’ rates initially decreased to offset the assessment.
COUNCIL ADMINISTRATIVE ASSISTANT
The city council agreed that a full-time council administrative assistant is needed to handle its day-to-day operations.
Upon the forced resignation of the previous director of Administrative Services, such duties have fallen on the city clerk, contrary to the city charter.
“Until we get proper management in place, I don't want to put this tax, or whatever, on my fellow citizens because we don't manage our money properly,” Rytman said, referring to the fire assessment.
Gordon agreed, saying the city is fortunate to currently have a diligent clerk, but a future clerk may not be as skilled or conscientious.
“The police department is waiting on tables so they can have dogs,” resident Ken Nielsen said, referring to a recent Cops for K-9s fundraiser. “Maybe you guys can wait on tables to pay a city administrator.”
For now, the council agreed that a detailed review of the proposed budget was needed to trim unneeded spending.
“We just need to roll up our sleeves — or wear short ones — and go through the budget line item by line item,” Helt said. “We need to look at our largest expenditures and make sure we're being fiscally responsible.”