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HIGH SPRINGS – High Springs City Commissioners approved a resolution at the July 24 regular commission meeting to set the ad valorem tax rate at 6.15 mills, the same millage rate the city set last year. Setting the proposed millage rate has the effect of setting a cap on the amount the city can charge for ad valorem taxes during the coming year. Once the cap is set and Alachua County is noticed, the city cannot exceed that millage rate.

The good news is that the commission can choose to lower that rate, and may actually do so this year.

City Manager Ed Booth already proposed a millage rate reduction from 6.15 to 6.1326 mills when he recently presented a balanced general fund budget of $3,923,601.

At the lower millage rate, citizens could see a slight reduction to their tax bill. However, if the taxable value of their property increased during the past year or some other change occurred, it is possible that property owners may not notice a reduction. However, those property owners will still reap the benefit as their next year's taxes will be lower than they would have been at last year's higher millage rate.

A reduced rate would mean the city can expect to realize approximately $5,000 less in revenues next year according to Booth, but he's planned for that and built it into his budget.

The proposed budget has a minimum of $25,000 set aside in the city's contingency fund for the coming year. “Last year's budget process saw very little money set aside for contingencies,” said Booth.

His long-range goal is to reduce the millage rate slowly over the next five years, hopefully to 5.2 mills by the end of that time.

“The reduced rate I proposed this year is just a start,” he said. “As the city gets better financially, I believe we should share with the citizens who have borne the brunt of less lucrative years along with the city,” said Booth.

At Booth's proposed roll back rate of 6.1326 mills, all of the anticipated expenses would be covered plus the city would see a much-needed improvement to vehicles, including police cars, and equipment, as well as reasonable salary increases for employees.

Booth explained that the city is in much better financial shape this year than last and attributed it, in part, to increases in construction and, as a result, increases in inspection fees and income to the city. He also anticipates paying off loans taken out on previously purchased police vehicles and purchasing a new police car out of this year's budget and a second one out of next year's budget.

In addition, Booth anticipates the city will be able to pay off a bridge loan, which has cost $60,000 yearly, out of the coming year’s budget. The loan was originally taken out as part of the sewer project.

“All of these things should put this city in a much better position financially by the time we have to sit down and plan a budget for the 2015/2016 fiscal year,” said Booth.

Commissioners seemed generally pleased with the budget, but thought it might be possible to reduce the millage rate even further. They requested Booth and Finance Director Jennifer Stull provide them with figures on additional millage reductions.

A final determination of the millage rate will be set at a public hearing, which is currently anticipated to be on Sept. 11, at which time citizens can comment on the proposed millage rate and budget for 2014/2015.

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