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Apalachicola budget debate heats up

The audience that spoke out to Apalachicola city commissioners at the city’s budget workshop last week was adamant about mainly one thing.

Now is not the time to grant large pay raises to city employees. 

The question of how extensive pay increases will figure in the budget for the upcoming 2022-23 fiscal year is one of two major decisions commissioners will have to make by their Sept. 7 and 21 budget hearings.

It is then they will have to decide whether to keep the millage at its current 9.0001 mills, or to roll it back to the 8.3457 millage rate that will keep revenues steady at the current year’s total of roughly $1.59 million.

Or they could find a midway point.

A clear consensus has yet to emerge among the five commissioners on where they’ll end up when it comes to setting the millage rate for what has been strong growth in the city’s tax base.

Property Appraiser Rhonda Skipper has calculated Apalachicola saw an increase in taxable values from $187.5 million to about $204 million, an expansion of about $16.5 million, or roughly 8.8 percent.

Mayor Brenda Ash made clear she backed the rollback rate, while Commissioner Donna Duncan signaled she was not in favor.

“I’d like to hold it at 9.0001,” said Duncan. “As many shortages as we have and challenges we have, I don’t see rolling it back.”

Commissioner Adriane Elliott spoke in support of the pay increases but did not voice an opinion on the millage rate. 

Commissioner Anita Grove also voiced support for some level of pay increases, and cast doubt on whether that could be done within the restraint of the rollback, a number calculated to keep ad valorem tax revenue unchanged from the previous year.

“I too would want to roll back but we need to make salary increases,” said Grove. “I don’t see how we can roll back to 8.3.”

Commissioner Despina George, an accountant by profession, said would like to see more specific numbers from Finance Manager Mark Gerspacher before voicing an opinion on what ought to be the eventual millage rate.

This budget is not even close to balancing,” she said. “We have to make sure numbers are accurate. The hard reality is we’re looking at a deficit between $350,000 and $400,000 and we’re still not sure what changes need to be made.”

Gerspacher has been busy refining his numbers since unveiling the budget about two weeks ago.

As it stands now, keeping the millage unchanged would yield about $1.68 million in ad valorem revenue for the city which, together with a long list of sales and licensing taxes, permitting fees, and grant revenues, leads to about $4.17 million in general fund revenue, about $194,000 more than in 2021-22.

When total expenses of about $5.48 million are considered, and a carryover balance of about $1.88 million is factored in, the city would be left with a roughly $400,000 deficit by fiscal year’s end if the millage is unchanged and about $523,000 in red ink if the rollback rate were adopted.

The commissioners are poised to drill down into the details of the proposed budget at its second budget workshop, slated for Tuesday, Aug. 30 at 5 p.m.

Among the many issues they will weigh will be two additional position – grant administrator and grant writer – at a price tag of about $118,000; the addition of an additional half-time position for the Apalachicola Margaret Key Library; the addition of a truck for use by the city manager; and the cost of repairs to the Holy Family Senior Center.

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Meet the Editor

David Adlerstein, The Apalachicola Times’ digital editor, started with the news outlet in January 2002 as a reporter.

Prior to then, David Adlerstein began as a newspaperman with a small Boston weekly, after graduating magna cum laude from Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. He later edited the weekly Bellville Times, and as business reporter for the daily Marion Star, both not far from his hometown of Columbus, Ohio.

In 1995, he moved to South Florida, and worked as a business reporter and editor of Medical Business newspaper. In Jan. 2002, he began with the Apalachicola Times, first as reporter and later as editor, and in Oct. 2020, also began editing the Port St. Joe Star.

Wendy Weitzel The Star Digital Editor

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