By a 4-1 vote, the Vero Beach City Council yesterday approved a budget for the 2016-2017 fiscal year that includes at 10.05 percent increase in the property tax millage rate over the rolled-back rate. The rolled-back millage rate is the rate the City would need to set in order to bring in the same amount of property tax revenue as last year after accounting for increases is assessed property values. Mayor Jay Kramer voted to approve the budget, but opposed the tax increase.
This coming year’s millage rate of 2.5194 will raise an additional $350,00. This money will be used to establish a trust fund to help pay for post employment benefits, (OPEB), for the City’s retirees. Chiefly, the City’s underfunded OPEB obligation is health insurance subsidies for retired City employees. Rising health costs and increasing longevity have thrown the City’s funding for these benefits into a deficit.
Apart from the creation of an OPEB trust account, the biggest change in the General Fund budget for the coming year is an increase in the starting salary for police officers from $36,900 to $38,500. The Council also budgeted for an increase of approximately $2,000 for police officers now making $38,000. As a comparison, the City of Sebastian pays starting police officers $40,000.
Other changes to the General Fund budget include one new position each in the City Attorney’s office and in the Planning Department, and two position in Public Works, one for survey and engineering and one for grounds maintenance. Allowing for attrition in other departments, the City now has budgeted four fewer full-time positions as of Oct. 1, 2016 than in had last year. The City’s employee count stands at 390, down more than 100 since 2009.
This years budget workshops were relatively uneventful and noncontroversial compared to previous years, when the Council was trying to adjust for the anticipated lose of approximately $5 million a year with the expected sale of Vero Electric. With the Orlando Utilities Commission having backed out of the deal, that proposed sale is now stalled. The purchase and sale contract between the City and Florida Power & Light is set to expire Dec. 31 of this year.