No matter how they slice or dice it, on Monday, September 19, 2022, the Village Council made the conscious decision to increase taxes they will collect from the aggregate of all property owners by 18.77% – otherwise known as raising property taxes.
We’ll walk you through it.
NOTE: Comparing apples to apples is important when explaining year over year budgets. Because the village does not have final numbers for the current fiscal year, we are showing and comparing “projected collections” for FY2021 and FY2022. If we calculate based on the actual ad valorem taxes collected for FY2021 versus 96% of this year’s amount the increase is 17.57%.
With almost no justification articulated, and a $75 million budget that shows only a 6.3% increase in expenditures, they voted unanimously to support the hefty increase. Note: Vice Mayor Rosenthal was absent and did not vote.
Let’s set the increase aside for the moment. Each budget year is just a snapshot of a bigger picture. The dramatic increase over the past five years has us concerned.
In September 2017, the Council voted to assess property owners a total of $8,900,000. The September 2022 budget approved by the Council was $14,600,000. That’s an increase of 64.1%. Wow, just wow!
2017 Budget Summary | 2021 Budget Summary | 2022 Budget Summary
Where’s the beef?
In just five short years, a collection of the politicians at Village Hall have taxed and spent a whole lot of money. Ask yourself this: Has your quality of life in Islamorada increased at the same pace? We did get a new pickle ball court, so there is that.
Giving raises to the folks who keep our town running makes sense. Padding a slush fund that pulls money away from regular folks in town, many who are struggling, does not. Furthermore, it allows folks at Village Hall to spend your tax dollars without asking or telling, in too many instances. Regardless of who sits on the Council, that lack of transparency is ripe for bad behavior.
The village’s policy is to maintain an emergency fund balance for the General Fund at a minimum level of 25 percent of the current year’s budgeted operating expenditures. When a disaster or hurricane hit Islamorada, and before FEMA reimburses the village for the damage, these funds are at the ready. That’s smart. We applaud it.
Twenty-five percent of this year’s General Fund operating budget is $4,325,000. Last year’s ending fund balance for was $12,172,100. The unassigned fund balance has exceeded the minimum requirement by $7,847,100.
This year, and with no public discussion, a change in policy was instituted increasing the minimum level for the emergency fund from 25% to 40%. That dollar amount is reflected as a budgeted increase.
On top of that, they have now tacked on an additional 20% of the operating budget in an “unassigned” fund. You could also call it an additional $3,863,900 slush fund.
The meeting was an embarrassment.
The Council was defensive and dismissive. Not one of the suggestions that have been offered by the public were entertained or acknowledged. We are not expecting them to know everything, get everything right. But when offered expert advice by successful members of the community, we do expect them to respect and contemplate it.
Instead, they perceive input as an attack and reject it. Thick skin is a requirement for elected officials for a reason. This is not about them; it is about our town.
Laugh or cry.
What the public heard was a lot of nonsense. “We won’t stand for deficit spending!” Okay, neither would any of us. But what are they talking about, and where did this new theme of “deficit spending” come from? And not a single word about any excesses in expenditures that could be reduced.
“We need to give our staff raises!” We agree. Last year’s raises were 5%, this year it’s 7%. But last year’s expenditures increased more than 20%. This year shows a 6.3% increase. So, it can’t be the 2% differential causing all this mayhem.
Then there was a Council chorus of calamity as if we haven’t dealt with emergencies before. “Just imagine if we were Puerto Rico right now!” Stop, please just stop. Our coffers are protected. As we did after Irma in 2017, if emergency funds are insufficient, we have banks to provide lines of credit and liquidity for that fund until we are fully reimbursed by FEMA.
Our commentary here is not to downplay risk or to suggest that this work is easy. Threats from increasingly dangerous storms and hurricanes are very real. But decisions like this need to be made transparently, calmly, and based on data and reality, including analyzing risk – and with the opportunity for the public to weigh in. This was chaotic and random.
Whose money is it?
Remember, the five people sitting on the Council today were just regular folks like the rest of us a little less than two years ago. No smarter or more experienced in matters of self governance. They should be reminded of that fact – along with a reminder that this is not their money, it is the public’s.
The Council is not required to keep the millage at 3 and an increase to taxable values does not trigger higher taxes. Any movement requires the consent and support from the Village Council, and don’t let them tell you otherwise.
They could have accepted a roll-back rate, which would have dropped it to 2.5449 mills and would have provided the same amount of funds as last year, or they could have chosen anything in between. Again, no honest and transparent rationale for the significant increase was given to the public.
Every single dime that could have been taken without raising the millage was taken.
Other financial blunders of 2022.
Stand up for taxpayers or maximize profits for shareholders
Lucrative contract for lobbyists