This year, Wilton Manors’ biggest budget worry seems to be something that won’t impact this year’s finances.

As commissioners, city officials, and members of the Budget Review Advisory Committee work on the 2017/2018 budget, everyone has an eye on a proposed homestead exemption expansion.

If passed by voters in November 2018, homeowners would be able to take an additional $25,000 in taxable value off their homestead, resulting in less revenue for local governments. Officials expect it to pass. That would mean a loss of $330,000 in revenue for the city.

“It’s something we have to start thinking about,” said Sal Torre, a member of the Budget Review Advisory Committee, at the July 25 commission meeting.

For the upcoming budget year, commissioners are looking to give property owners tax relief that won’t result in a huge hole in the city’s finances.

On July 26, commissioners voted on a preliminary operating millage rate of 5.99 mils, and a debt millage rate of .5015. The commission needs to vote on the millage rates twice before they are approved. The first vote will take place on Sept. 13. At that meeting, commissioners will also vote on a budget and fire assessments. Commissioners can reduce the operating millage from 5.99 but they can’t raise it.

This year’s proposed budget is $34.9 million, a reduction over last year’s budget of $35.8 million.

Resident Paul Kuta said property owners should get a break on the taxes that come with higher property values. He also praised city officials for their proposed budget. “This is the tightest budgeting that I have seen in the 21 years that I have been reviewing Wilton Manors’ city budgets.”

Mayor Gary Resnick agreed with Kuta and said city officials need to show they are lowering taxes. “We had a substantial increase in property values and I agree with some of the comments that I’ve been getting from residents that they’re entitled to a little bit of a tax break as a result of that.”

One cost on the rise for homeowners is the fire assessment fee – up from $210.88 per home last year to $214.72. The fees, which are assessed to residential, commercial, industrial, government, and nursing homes, are based on the number of calls each classification receives. If the call volume decreases, the cost goes down. If the volume increases, the cost goes up.

Commissioner Tom Green said he wants to get rid of the assessment fee and pay for the services using property tax revenue.

“I have never felt this was an appropriate tax or fee. It is a regressive type of fee because everyone is paying the same [even if one home is worth far more than another],” said Green. “Maybe you think that’s OK. I don’t. I think it’s very unfair.”

When the commission voted on fire assessment fees, the vote failed to pass because Green, Commissioner Julie Carson, and Vice Mayor Justin Flippen voted no. Resnick and Commissioner Scott Newton both gave sarcastic comments about the failure of the vote. “Congratulations, guys,” said Resnick. Commissioners will most likely approve the assessment at a future meeting.

If the fire assessment fee were to be abolished, commissioners would have to raise taxes to generate additional revenue to pay for it.

Resnick said the same argument Green made about the fire assessment being unfair also applies to property taxes because newer homeowners pay more in property taxes than individuals who have owned their homes for a longer period of time. “It’s the same argument Tom is making. It absolutely doesn’t make sense.”

Newton said that even though property owners wouldn’t have to pay the fire assessment fee, they still would be against an increase in property taxes. “They’re going to go crazy.” He suggested the city look at possibly getting rid of the fee next year.

I certainly will not support raising the tax rate above six mills. I won’t even support keeping it at the current rate,” Resnick said. “I’m not prepared to change the way we do business tonight, but my ears are open,” said Flippen.