Budget, beaches & canals to fill fall agendas

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Longboat Key’s financial reserves are healthy, its property values are up and the tax rate will likely remain fixed. These fundamentals all factor in to a series of decisions the Town Commission took recently including setting the millage rate and adopting the fiscal year 2020 budget.

In spite of these strengths, there are two distinct challenges: A long-range beach plan must be adopted and funded and a canal-dredging program must be clarified and funded as well.


On budget

On average, Longboat Key’s property values are 3.62 percent higher than last year. At a flat millage rate of 2.1144, this netted an additional $354,987 in revenue to the town. Town Manager Tom Harmer said that money helped to offset employee compensation increases as well as what he calls external budget impacts.

The Town currently imposes its general operating millage as well as debt for Fire Station replacement and a separate millage for beach renourishment.

Harmer said that the current year’s revenues are estimated to exceed the budget in the General Fund by $128,500. Part of that came from a Hurricane Irma payment of $130,649. He said that legal fees are down as well as professional services and that helped lead to current year expenses coming in at $836,000 less than was budgeted. Harmer proposes that the commission not raise the millage rate in the coming year and to keep operating budgets flat.

One of the highlights of the budget includes appropriations for the ongoing undergrounding of utilities, including the installation of a fiber backbone and street lights. The Town is under contract for the design build of a new South Fire Station and the renovation of the North Fire Station.

In the budget is partial funding for pickleball expansion as well as initial site prep and permitting monies for what is called a Town Center outdoor venue, which is the site where the Ringling was once in partnership with the town to build a cultural arts center.

While Harmer suggests keeping the millage rate flat, the increase in property values means homeowners will see their tax bills go up. And while the same millage rate will bring in more than $350,000 in additional revenue, that increase is not sufficient to cover both operating and capital outlay expenses. This approach is leading to a reduction in the town’s Fund Balance in the amount of $461,391 to maintain a flat millage rate.

The total revenue flowing into the town through the general millage rate is $16,798,913. The total Operating Expenditures are proposed to be $16,809,304. The additional expenditure is in the Capital Expenditures of $451,000 and the budget overage is what is requiring the use of the Fund Balance to balance the budget.


Beaches and canals

Harmer said the town needs to determine a long-term plan for funding canal dredging. The highest priority for the town is what is referred to as Canal 1A, which is the narrow waterway that runs around the spit of sand extending from Beer Can Island into the nearly enclosed tidal flow on the north end of the key. Residents along the lagoon on the north end have long-urged the commission to dredge the lagoon and not allow it to become closed off by the ever-growing sand spit curling under the Longboat Pass Bridge.

Harmer said the presence of sea grass has added complexity and the necessity of mitigation strategies in order to dredge Canal 1A and the lagoon. He added that Canal 1A and the lagoon are the first priority, followed by 16 or 17 other canals on the key.

How to pay for canal dredging raises issues of fiscal fairness. Harmer said that it can be argued that dredged canals are a general benefit for every property owner on the key. That approach helps substantiate using the general fund to pay for canal dredging.

The countervailing argument is that there is a clear and direct benefit in owning property on a canal, and the property value is measurably enhanced if there is deep water access for a dock or boat. That argument inures to an approach that favors creating a special assessment district wherein canal-front property owners pay all or most of the cost of dredging.

The latter approach is how Longboat Key property owners pay for beach maintenance. Properties to the west of Gulf of Mexico Drive pay 80 percent of the cost of beach maintenance and are located in what is called District A. District B properties pay the remaining 20 percent. The Town puts the beach costs to a vote with each district historically approving the request.

On the issue of beaches, Harmer said that the current beach bonds that were approved by voters expire and a new beach maintenance plan must be adopted and voters will have to once again approve funding. That means the town commission in October will hold beach maintenance workshops and have to fashion an approach and adopt a budget reflecting the associated costs.

Beach maintenance is the largest ongoing budgetary expense and the cost for a series of groins on the north end of the key as well as money for future renourishments must all be factored in to the coming plan.

On the immediate budgetary front, the town will adopt its millage rate and approve a budget for the 2020 fiscal year. But in the coming months, the beaches and canals will be the focus of numerous discussions, all affecting both the budget and properties of Longboat Key residents.

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1 Response for “Budget, beaches & canals to fill fall agendas”

  1. Bob White says:

    With the exception of canals which serve as vessel thoroughfares, dredging of canals that serve only residences should be primarily the responsibility of property owners fronting the canal. This is consistent with the longstanding policy for maintaining the beaches and the more recent referendum on neighborhood under-grounding. In each case the majority of the cost is born by the residents who receive the majority of the benefits. Assessing dredging costs for residential canals to all residents of the Key would be inconsistent with fairness and contrary to established policy.

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