OKEECHOBEE — City residents and business owners received a flyer last week urging them to attend Tuesday’s city council budget meeting.
The meeting will include a decision on setting the maximum millage rate for the fiscal year. At this time, the millage rate is set at 7.6018. The flyer explains if the millage rate stays the same, homestead residents will pay 3% more in taxes than last year, and business owners will pay 10% more.
Councilman Bob Jarriel, who was responsible for the flyers, said the reason your taxes will go up despite the millage rate remaining the same is because property values have increased, and your taxes are based on property value.
One mill equals $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of taxable property value. For example, if a home has an assessed property value of $150,000 and qualifies for the $50,000 homestead exemption, a tax rate of 7.6018 mills would equal $760.18 in taxes.
“When I ran for city council, I promised to represent the taxpayers which are the businesses and the homeowners. I’ve always said the businesspeople have always complained they pay all the taxes but have no vote. I told them as long as I am a councilman, you have a voice,” said Councilman Jarriel.
At the last council meeting, when the subject of the millage rate came up, both Councilmember Monica Clark and Councilman Jarriel argued in favor of lowering the maximum millage rate but were voted down.
Mayor Dowling Watford explained the maximum rate was just a maximum for advertising purposes and they did not have to actually use it. The council can set the millage lower than that advertised on the TRIM (truth in millage) notices. Councilmember Clark asked if there was ever a time in history when they set it and then did not use it.
Councilman Jarriel said he has gone door-to-door to the businesses and has heard how restaurants have cut their hours, let employees go, and are paying more for every item they buy. Insurance has gone up. Everything costs more, and the businesses are still trying to recover from a couple years of covid. “The businesses are hurting. The people are hurting,” said Councilman Jarriel.
“When you talk about the homeowners, it might be $30 or $50 or $100. No matter what it is. The expenses keep going up and we keep taking and taking. For people on a fixed income, they don’t have any place to go for extra money. Inflation, insurance, groceries, gas. It all adds together.”
Councilman Jarriel said the city will save $1,000,000 from the budget after closing the fire department, and he wants to give some of those savings back to the residents and business owners.
Jarriel is sure the room will be packed for the budget meeting tomorrow (August 2) and will be very disappointed if it isn’t. He believes it makes a big difference in the way the council votes when citizens come to the meetings and make their voices heard. “When I sit up on that podium next to the council and there is nobody sitting in those seats, it’s easy to vote on something. But, when those seats are full, and you are looking at your neighbors and you’re looking at businesses, and you are hearing them tell you, it makes a difference.”
Councilman Jarriel would like to see the millage rate rolled back to 6.8987 which would raise the same amount of revenue as the city collected last year.
Councilman Jarriel believes the city can make and live within a budget using the lower millage rate. He cited a meeting last year when Councilmember Clark asked the finance department to cut $400,000 from the budget, and they did. “Yes, it can be done. Our revenue has increased by $250,000 and expenses have gone down $300,000,” said Councilman Jarriel.
Business owner Matthew Buxton encouraged fellow business owners to attend the meeting, saying, “This (the flyer) was dropped off at my office yesterday. 10% increases for businesses? Considering that the vast majority of business in the city are owned by those of us that do not live in the city means we cannot sit on the council and we cannot vote on anything either, yet we bear the brunt of expense, and I means tens of thousands each year. What do we get for that that amount of money? I do my best to provide the best services for the families that entrust me with their loved ones in the most economical way in comparison to others, all at the same time physically and financially supporting this community through scholarships, charities, fundraisers, school endeavors and so much more. What happened to all the money that was going to be saved from letting the city fire department go? If all this is true, then I’d like to see some accountability. I cannot be there for this meeting because I have to take someone out of state for a family I am serving, but I hope my fellow businesses and residents are there in force to see what the story may be.”
The budget meeting is held in council chambers at City Hall 55 S.E. Third Avenue at 5 p.m. on Tuesday.