Amid suggestions to implement audio and video streaming of meetings, the Sanibel City Council passed its proposed $45.6 million Fiscal Year 2014 budget Tuesday evening at City Hall.
After months of debate, scrutiny, discussion and tweaking the city's administration settled on a roll-back millage rate of 2.0861. That rate produces the same revenue as last year and is even tighter than the 2013 rate of 2.1000, which was leaner than the 2012 rate of 2.1398.
"As stewards of taxpayer dollars, we continue to live within our means," said Mayor Kevin Ruane, who has maintained virtually the same message each year. "We took an aggressive stance on the roll-back rate. We are the only municipality that went to the roll-back rate."
The actual total budget figure of $45,692,722 for 2013 includes a slight reduction in the waste removal rate, a 25 percent reduction in Planning Department permitting fees and a modest 1.5 percent increase in the sewer and reclaimed water rate. Effective Oct. 1, the new sewer rate will generate just over $91,000 in additional revenue. The sewer rate has not been raised in several years. The law allows a 3 percent increase per year, but Council preferred to go easy on taxpayers to moderate the shock level. It is said 97 percent of island residents are connected to the sewer system.
The reduction in Planning Department fees comes on top of a 25 percent reduction in the fees approved last April, for a total reduction of 50 percent this year alone.
Residential solid waste collection bills will show a decrease of 0.7 percent while the commercial curbside rate will decrease by 0.4 percent. The rate for dumpsters declines by 1.4 percent
At the Sept. 7 budget public hearing, Council approved a lump sum payment of $1.3 million to the police pension fund in order further reduce future payments.
"Over time that will reduce subsequent years payments to the fund," City Manager Judie Zimomra said at the time.
The police pension plan has the highest interest rate of any of the city's debts. The payment was made by transferring $1,161,330 from the General Fund and $111,905 from the Beach Parking fund, one of the city's fee-based Enterprise Funds. The city is able to use Beach Parking funds since police officers patrol the shores and can be compensated from it.
In addition to council and staff members, only a handful of citizens attended the short meeting. Three citizens addressed the council with the audio and video streaming sparking the most discussion. Council has researched the streaming topic for a couple of years and agrees with the concept.
"Technology in that area is advancing rapidly," said Zimomra. "We've looked into it from a cost perspective and determined that we'd like to start with audio feed first and choose a software package that allows us to add video later. We don't want to buy software that is outdated in a matter of months. The city's website gets more than 9,000 page clicks, so residents are staying informed about the city's transactions."
The audio files of council meetings on the website (mysanibel.com) has been criticized for being cumbersome and unfriendly to navigate if you are not interested in listening to the entire meeting.
"Just one man's opinion, I think audio is sufficient," added Ruane. "But if you want to see my smiling face along with it then I'm okay with that. We want to be good stewards of taxpayer dollars."