City holds line on property tax rate again

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Posted September 4, 2020 | By Brad Rogers, Executive Editor

For the fifth straight year, the Ocala City Council has held the line on its millage rate of 6.6 mills, although the tax rate is expected to generate more revenue than in the past due to growth and rising property values.

Among the big line items in the budget are the Ocala Electric Utility, the city’s power provider, which has a budget of $176 million, while Water Resources has a budget of $39 million and the Sanitation Department is in line for $20 million. City residents will see slight increases in water, stormwater and garbage fees, all of which are part of planned long-term, incremental increases in rates.

The total city budget is $817 million. That includes the utilities, fire and police, pension funds, as well as the cost of daily operation of the city and long-term capital improvement projects.

City Manager Sandra Wilson said the loss of the city fire assessment, which a court recently ruled unconstitutional, will not affect the current budget, and the city is appealing the court ruling. The fee had generated more than $150 million since 2007 for Ocala Fire Rescue operations.

Of the $118 million General Fund, which funds city operations that are not enterprise funds – utilities, the airport and golf services – Ocala police get the largest chunk of every dollar, about 29 cents. Fire gets 17 cents of every dollar, while Parks and Recreation get 9 cents of every dollar. The rest is divided up between various administrative and regulatory departments.

The budget calls for $23 million for the city’s Capital Improvement Program. Among the line items in this section of the budget are $8 million for electric system upgrades, $4 million for the ongoing Transportation Rehabilitation and Improvement Program (TRIP), $1.6 million for expanding the Ocala Fiber Network and $2 million for water system improvements.

There is $185,000 set aside for a “feasible route study and continued load studies” for a major electric transmission line planned to run along Southeast and Southwest 42 Street. The seven-year project is estimated to cost $35 million to $40 million when completed and is intended to expand the power load capacity of the OEU’s existing transmission lines.

The police department budget of $33.8 million was $6 million more than the $27.3 million from last year. The fire rescue budget, meanwhile, held steady at just under $20 million. About three-fourths of both agencies’ budgets go to salaries and benefits, according to the budget.

The city has $216 million in reserves – an amount required by law. These funds are kept on hand to help the city in moments of emergency, like a hurricane, and to ensure the city can function at the beginning of the budget year before tax revenues begin coming in.

Some of the city’s priority projects, while receiving funds, did not take major steps forward. Affordable housing continued to get minor funding, $300,000, to help move the Tucker Hill development forward as well as the West Oaks project, which is part of the old Pine Oaks Golf Course. Both are on the city’s westside.

The city also continued to fund its Office of Homeless Prevention to the tune of $339,000. The city is working on homelessness jointly with Marion County.

Wilson declared the city is in good financial shape.

“The financial condition of the city remains strong and sustainable,” she said.

The City Council has been presented the proposed budget and will hold public hearings on it on Sept. 15 and Sept. 22, at 5:15 p.m. on both dates.

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