Don’t raise our stakes double

By Steve Estes

As is said nearly any time of any year, “Costs continue to go up.” We heard that from Monroe County Administrator Roman Gastesi this week during initial budget discussions for the coming fiscal year as staff outlined a proposal to jack up property tax rates by about 5.7 percent over the current rate.

We all understand that costs continue to go up.

What we need is for local governments to realize that the taxpayer is already paying more for the same things government agencies are paying for, and then are being asked to pay more for those same things again for the government agency.

It’s a cycle that has to stop.

While homesteaded properties are still protected by the Save Our Homes legislation, limiting increases to three percent per year, commercial properties and second homes have a much higher cap, up to 10 percent in increase, which builds up rapidly as both proposed tax rate and property appraisal goes up.

Monroe County isn’t back to its appraisal levels of the 2006/2007 era, but values have recovered to the 2003/2004 era. And that means increases no matter what for the property owner.

So we can’t sit idly by and watch our county government ask for nearly six percent more money.

Our elected officials found that idea to be unpalatable, thankfully, and sent staff back to the drawing board to try and hold a maximum three percent increase.

That’s still a little high for our tastes, but it’s definitely a step in the right direction.

Most of the increase is for staff salaries and benefits. We are the last ones to say that hard working people don’t deserve additional money for the work they do.

But the hard working taxpayer doesn’t always have to bite the bullet.

It’s a an interesting conundrum with no easy answer.

County employees get automatic raises for time in job and other things as long as the final numbers fall within the established maximum parameters set up for the job description.

By shuffling job duties, county employees can get additional pay, taking on a little more responsibility for some more money.

Constitutional officers have the last say on their expenses, but the Board of County Commissioners can attempt a veto, and all of that money runs through the county’s budget.

So what looks like a $400 million-plus budget is actually about $82 million for general county operations. But that’s still an increase from our pocketbooks.

We’re also told that the infrastructure sales tax is going to break some revenue records this year, so maybe it’s time to start looking at upgrading our Cudjoe Regional Wastewater System to a little more gravity where it makes the most sense.

We’d still advocate staying away from the $50,000 to $60,000 per unit price range. The sales tax may not remain as strong as it has.

Now may be the time for the BOCC to start tossing some money at some of the groups out there that are fighting to save us all a few bucks.

We are talking specifically about Fair Insurance Rates for Monroe. That small band of dedicated volunteers has done more to keep down property insurance costs in Monroe County than every other group combined.

And the county has been the beneficiary of that hard work, as have all of the property owners here.

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