Sanford City Commissioners agreed to make the city No. 1 – for highest property tax rate in Seminole County.

The proposed rate would increase one-half mil, from 6.825 to 7.325.

There is, however, a silver lining.

Monday’s vote only set a tentative millage rate. In addition, commissioners appear to favor a substantially less increase and possibly keeping the actual 2015 at the 2014 rate.

Mayor Jeff Triplett and District 1 Commissioner Art Woodruff noted the city has a healthy reserve fund – about 30% of the annual operating budget.

“I have a hard time asking for more tax revenue when we have that much reserve,” said Woodruff.

Triplett agreed, adding that while the commission had been diligent in building the reserve balance throughout the economic downturn, it was time to lower the reserve balance to between 20 to 25%.

“We cannot save our way to prosperity while also increasing taxes,” Triplett said.

The proposed tax rate increase would generate $1.2 million in revenue. Decreasing the reserve funds would free up about $2 million.

City Manager Norton Bonaparte and Finance Director Cynthia Lindsey presented the budget to commissioners two weeks ago asking for the one-half mill increase. Bonaparte and Lindsay say the increase is needed for a 3% employee salary increase, as well as for some capital funding projects.

Commissioners have at least one more budget session set for July 22. Plus, there will be two public hearings – and two votes – on the budget and millage rate scheduled for September.

The Seminole County Property Appraiser will send out a notice in August to all property owners alerting them of the proposed rate, as well as the increase value of their real estate. In Sanford, total property values increased 7.2%, the highest in the county.

Under Florida law, once cities set a tentative tax rate, the actual rate can be decreased during the public hearing process, however the tax rate cannot be more than the tentative rate.

Sanford commissioners agreed to set the tentative millage at the 7.325 rate to give them flexibility for the remaining budget hearings.

– by Dan Ping

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