Senatory Poll

Ron Smith Talks Budgets

Mayor and members of the council, I am Ron Smith, a long-time resident and taxpayer who is currently seeking seat 2 on the city council. Thank you for this time as you return from your well-earned summer break and again turn your attention to the 2024 budget.

After reviewing city budget information from the past 10 years, I am here today to shine a spotlight on what I believe are some critical numbers for your consideration and then to ask you to reduce the city’s property tax RATE for the first time in more than a decade.

That is POSSIBLE and NECESSARY because of the tremendous increase in the taxable value of property in the city over the last decade.

I believe this is a well-run city. I believe the city manager and the finance staff have done a good job and have helped you place the city in a sound financial situation.

Still, the numbers to support my request for a tax rate cut are STARK. Starting with this: In 2014 the taxable value of property in Venice was 2.8 billion dollars. In 2023 that had more than doubled to 5.7 billion dollars.

To have simply held the city tax rate level over that period of time with that sort of increase in property assessments would have resulted in city property tax increases for everyone and larger increases on commercial property, on residential properties that change hands and on all property owners who do not have homestead protections.

But, in fact, the city has not even held the line on the tax rate. The tax rate has been increased three times in the last 10 years and then applied to these skyrocketing property values.

 In fairness to you, one of the three increases (.66 mills) was to take over the EMS services from the county in 2021 and that was offset by a corresponding decrease in the county tax rate. Still, even after subtracting that figure the city has increased its tax RATE by 19 percent over the last 10 years.

I believe it is difficult to justify holding the tax rate flat, let alone increase the rate by 19 percent when it is applied to soaring property values.

 It is not enough to suggest we have significant new construction that requires more services.

Over the last 10 years, the increased value due to new construction represented just 28 percent of the increase in taxable value. The rest came from increased assessments on existing properties.

To better understand what that means for an individual homeowner let me highlight a home five blocks from here on Bayshore Road.

This property, which I came across doing some pro bono legal work, is a 1,800 square foot 3 bedroom 2 bath residence built in 1986.

Ten years ago, the assessed value of the property was 309,000. The assessed value has since risen to 658,000. The city taxes a decade ago were $851 and they have increased to $2,918. That’s not the total property tax bill that is just the city tax bill.

What was $851 is now $2,918.

Your first reaction may be that these numbers can’t be right – but they are right, and they are typical. And they are the reason why with another 14 percent increase in taxable values this year, you must cut the tax rate you apply to these values.

One last budgetary note as you contemplate using this year’s windfall from increased assessments to double your general fund reserves to more than 50 percent of the budget: The Government Finance Officers’ Association recommends a minimum General Fund reserve of 5% to 15% of operating revenues.

It is not fair to taxpayers to increase the city’s reserves beyond your previously stated goal of 25 percent of the general fund.

Ladies and gentlemen THIS YEAR you must allow for inflation but roll-back the tax rate in a responsible way to offer RELIEF to commercial property owners, to businesses that pay rent, to seasonal residents and to our year-round residents who LOVE our city and the wonderful services the city provides.

Thank you for your time and consideration.