Officials expect rise in property values

This is a typical thinking for our Florida government officials!

Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will increase 1.7 percent in 2015.

Lake County officials projected at a budget workshop this week taxable property values would continue to trend upwards, with a 5 percent increase estimated for fiscal year 2015-16, amounting to an additional $4 million for the county.

“We might need more spending money so let’s stick it to our retired seniors, typical response from our rich congress”!

Once again I ask you, why would anyone want to retire to Florida?

This is a less than a percentage point increase from 2014, according to county budget director Stephen Koontz.

Moreover, this year’s revenues from the sales tax and impact fees are also expected to exceed last year’s.

Koontz added revenues from the sales tax are also expected to increase 5 percent, which equals to an additional $1 million.

Although there is additional funding from two revenue sources, county officials cautioned it does not mean overall the county will have $5 million available to spend.

“These are just two of the many sources in the general fund,” (the one fund that could be used for any county purpose), Koontz said. “The total available funding will be determined after all the revenues have been evaluated during the budget process.”

Commissioner Jimmy Conner questioned whether projecting a 5 percent growth in countywide taxable value was conservative enough in planning the 2015-16 budget.

“That seems like a high number,” he said.

But Koontz said the projections were based on numbers from the state’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research — which estimated a 6 percent increase in taxable values — and past economic trends.

In the same workshop, Koontz also compared Lake County’s property tax rate to surrounding counties.

As a result, Koontz said Lake had the third lowest tax rate compared with eight surrounding counties based on homes with taxable values of $100,000 and $250,000.

Compared with the surrounding cities of Mount Dora, Leesburg and Clermont, the county had the lowest tax rate at $1,054 for a home with a taxable value of $100,000 and $2,101 for a home valued at $250,000.

The county’s commercial property tax rate compared with the same surrounding cities and counties puts it in the middle, Koontz said.

Tuesday’s budget presentation was the second of numerous workshops the county is conducting on the budget.

County officials have added more workshops, specifically focused on departments and services such as libraries, solid waste and landfill, parks and storm water and public transportation. Dates for all the workshops have not been set at this time.

Commissioners faced scrutiny in 2014 after voting 3-2 to raise the property tax rate by 13.8 percent to address a $15 million shortfall. Commissioners Tim Sullivan and Leslie Campione voted against the budget.

Passing a budget without a tax increase came at a cost of making serious cuts to service levels and programs, commissioners said at the time.

The County Commission had been using reserves to balance the budget. Reserves have dropped from $33 million in 2008 to $10.5 million in 2014, according to county officials. The county-wide property tax amounted to a hike of $65 for a home with a taxable value of $100,000.

Although the workshops will be beneficial in helping to prioritize issues early on, they do not address the constitutional officers’ budgets and property values, which are not released until June, commissioners said.

Sullivan and other commissioners are so optimistic about the projections that they expect no tax increase to occur this budget season.

“We are seeing some of the economy turn around,” he said. “We are getting more businesses that are opening their doors in Lake County. If we change the mix of who gets taxed to pay for services in Lake County we will be in a much better financial position.”

While also pleased with the news, Campione said the key moving forward is making sure the county continues to find efficiencies in the budget.

“We can do long range planning to the extent we have a certain level of savings for certain type of projects while looking for ways to cut the tax rate,” she said. “How can we make sure that money gets back to the taxpayer?”

Although Commissioner Sean Parks also remained optimistic, he also spoke of challenges ahead.

“The fact remains we may be operating on a deficit and using whatever reserves we have left,” he said.

LIVI STANFORD livi.stanford@dailycommercial.com

http://www.dailycommercial.com/

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