Commissioners Set Lowest Tax Rate Target since 2012

Fruitland Park — Commissioners Thursday evening lowered next year’s maximum property tax rate from the 5.0371 mills initially proposed last year to 5.0293 for the 2016 fiscal year, which starts October 1.

The so-called TRIM rate—named for Florida’s Truth in Millage Act—is the first step in a complex annual budget process that begins every summer in Florida. The TRIM rate represents the maximum rate the city might tax its residents next year.

Florida law requires commissioners to notify property owners of the proposed TRIM rate, and prohibits commissioners from subsequently raising property taxes above the advertised TRIM rate. Commissioners can—and usually do—set an actual or final millage rate that is lower than the advertised TRIM rate.

Florida allows cities to tax property owners up to 10 mills, or $10 per $1,000 in taxable value.

City Manager Gary La Venia said the TRIM rate is a starting point. Commissioners will work backwards to lower the actual rate at which property owners will be taxed as they mark their way through a proposed fiscal year budget.

Commissioner Ray Lewis

Commissioner Ray Lewis

Commissioner Ray Lewis objected, telling commissioners the TRIM rate process is “a colossal waste of time.”

“I would vote to set the TRIM rate at 10 mills,” Lewis said, to peals of laughter. His objection was both rhetorical and procedural—Lewis is known for being just as tight-fisted as his four colleagues on the commission.

Commissioners dislike the TRIM rate requirement because it often confuses property owners and leads to numerous unwarranted complaints. According to Florida Tax Watch, Florida’s Truth in Millage Act makes the taxing process more transparent and makes it easier for voters to determine whether property tax hikes are the result of increased property valuations or budget decisions commissioners make.

Last year, commissioners lowered Fruitland Park’s TRIM rate from 5.0371 mills at the outset of the budget process to a final property tax rate of 4.7371 mills. In 2013, commissioners advertised a TRIM rate of 5.0663 mills.

Commissioners plan to hold budget workshop sessions August 3, 4, and 5 starting at 6 p.m. in commission chambers. The public is invited.

Thursday’s commission agenda announced a resolution “adopting a tentative millage rate of 4.6185…” representing “a 0% increase to the “rolled back” rate…”.

City Manager Gary La Venia interrupted the reading of that resolution, interjecting, “We need to discuss this.”

While a bold promise, setting the TRIM rate below last year’s actual tax rate would tie commissioners’ hands in a year when costs are expected to go up to meet new demands of a projected 4,000 new residents in the Village of Fruitland Park, La Venia explained.

On the other hand, as Mayor and 20-year budget veteran Chris Bell set the agenda, the “0% increase” announcement more likely forecast his intention to seek reelection to a sixth term on the commission in 2016.

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