Heading into the city’s budget process, members of the Budget Review Advisory Committee (BRAC) were happy to see a proposed city budget with the millage rate remaining the same. As in the previous year, we once again see rising property values over 8 percent, which automatically brings in a sizeable amount of additional revenue into the city’s General Fund.

Most cities in Broward County, such as Oakland Park and Lauderdale-by-the-Sea, who have sizeable increases in property values, have lowered the millage rate in their proposed budgets. Alas, that is not the case here in Wilton Manors. While surrounding cities’ elected officials have voted to lower millage rates, Wilton Manors elected officials have voted to raise the millage rate. This decision goes against the proposed budget put forth by city staff and against the advice of their own advisory board, the Budget Review Advisory Committee, who unanimously supported no increase in the millage rate.

Wilton Manors already has one of the highest millage rates in Broward County; and if our elected officials have their way, our ranking might be even higher. With more tax dollars rolling in due to higher property values, most cities choose to lower the millage rate, since residents will be paying more in taxes. At a minimum, the millage rate should be kept the same. Unfortunately, at a budget workshop a few weeks ago, our elected officials voted to raise the millage rate, much to the surprise of BRAC members and city staff. Absolutely amazing, dumbfounding, shocking--the list of adjectives can go on and on; but a few adjectives you will not see listed here …….responsible, sensible, prudent…

The proposed city budget already met the needs of our city. Public safety was addressed with the inclusion of one new police officer. Future city growth and development were addressed through the inclusion of a City Planner position. Unfortunately, our commissioners want more police officers, additional Leisure Services positions, a salary increase for themselves, and other additional spending.

Personnel is always a major expense, not just for one fiscal year, but for all the fiscal years thereafter. Along with the cost of each new officer, you have to add the additional expense of a new take-home patrol car and the maintenance of that vehicle. The same goes for park expansion or additional recreational programs, the city needs to consider personnel cost and additional maintenance expenses. So, before we decide to permanently burden future budgets with the cost of additional personnel, we must look at all other possible solutions.

Are we utilizing existing personnel correctly and efficiently? Are there too many supervisors and not enough boots on the ground? Are we top-heavy with administrative positions which can be combined or eliminated? These are the questions we need to address first, before we make the quick and easy choice of hiring more people. How many more people can a city of just under 12,000 residents continue to add to the payroll, and how much are residents willing to see their tax bill increase, along with the usual increases in Fire Assessment, Water and Utility billing, and more?

Residents should be aware that the decisions being made in the next month will affect the cost of living in this city, not just for the next fiscal year, but for many years to come. Raising the millage rate is not a done deal, until Commissioners vote on a final budget on Sept. 21. Voice your concerns at the two Public Hearings on the FY 2016 Budget. The first Public Hearing will be held on Friday, Sept. 11, beginning at 6:30 p.m. at City Commission Chambers. The second Public Hearing will be held on Sept. 21, also at 6:30 p.m., followed by final adoption of the FY 2016 Budget. Better yet, contact your elected officials directly and let them know you thoughts, their emails are listed on the city website.

One closing thought…if our Commissioners think it’s OK to raise the millage rate now, when we have another year of large property value increases and with tax rolls moving higher, ask yourself how much will they have to raise the millage rate next year or the year after when we see property values level off but still have to pay for everything they added to the budget along the way.

That’s right Wilton Manors…life is just more expensive here.