MADEIRA BEACH – Not often do people cheer a tax increase. But a crowd of Madeira Beach residents showed up at a city hall budget meeting on July 16 to do just that.
Backed by the residents’ comments and applause, the city commission agreed to raise the millage rate from 1.79 mils, where it has been since 2007, to 1.99. The tax rate had been over 2.0 during the 1990s and until 2007, City Manager Shane Crawford pointed out. The increase is the first in 30 years, he said.
The rate hike decision came after the resident comment section of the meeting, where speaker after speaker spoke positively of the city’s recent accomplishments.
Drake Philbrook, a resident who also owns properties in the city, told the commission he is “behind any budget decision you want to make.”
“We just love the direction the city is moving,” Philbrook said. “Keep growing and keep developing, we love it.”
Bob Shaw said he is “so happy with the city’s condition.” Shaw said he had “never seen a time when Madeira Beach properties are in such good shape, when there is so much progress and development.”
Jeff the Jeweler owner Jeff Brown praised city officials for “positive improvements.” “I am really excited by the forward-thinking,” he said. “The decisions are right and the money is now being spent right.”
“What a wonderful city,” exclaimed resident Housh Ghovaee, who is a developer. He went on to compliment Crawford, Mayor Travis Palladeno and the commission members.
Steve Rayow also commended city officials for “making the city a good place to live.” Rayow said safety in the city is much improved. He thanked the police and city employees for working cooperatively “to increase the citizens’ safety.”
Following the citizens’ praise, Crawford explained his reasons for requesting the millage rate increase. He said a number of projects are underway in the city right now, naming the city center development, Archibald Park upgrades, road and drainage projects and beach improvements. He noted they are being done at a rapid and expedited pace.
“To do all this in a responsible fashion we need to raise the millage rate slightly,” he said. “There’s a rebirth going on, and frankly you have to fund it.”
Crawford said income out of the city center would be forthcoming from ball field and banquet room rentals. But not until next spring at the earliest, which is six months into the fiscal year, he said.
Crawford went on to cite higher millage rates in nearby communities, Treasure Island at 3.34, St. Pete Beach’s 2.85, Gulfport at 4.0 and Belleair, the county’s second-highest, at 6.02.
Crawford said Madeira Beach has “the lowest city millage rate in the county.”
“There’s nothing prestigious about having the lowest millage rate in the county if you can’t do the projects or offer services,” said Crawford.
Actually, the tiny beach community of Belleair Shore has the county’s lowest rate, followed by North Redington Beach at .7511 and South Pasadena at 1.6985. Madeira Beach at 1.79 is the fourth lowest. Indian Shores and Redington Beach have millage rates under 1.99, Madeira’s proposed new rate.
Following Crawford’s comments, the residents’ positive comments continued, with all backing the proposed rate hike.
Rayow urged the city to look at other revenue producing options also, such as a penny sales tax increase, which he said would tax nonresidents “and they wouldn’t even notice it.” But Rayow said he supported the millage rate increase. “I’m all for it,” Rayow said, “I’m asking that you add other possibilities on top of it.”
Steve Kochick thanked Crawford “for restoring the city back to stability” and giving city employees what he said were deserved raises.
Developer Sam Lewis thanked Crawford for “bringing back development, and showing the city can be trusted.”
Gary Hughes called the city building department “awesome.” He said city staff and officials are “doing a great job.”
Commission members unanimously agreed to the millage rate increase, to 1.99 from 1.79. A recommendation by Commissioner Terry Lister to raise the rate further to 2.2 was turned down.
Crawford said he wanted an increase he could justify. At 2.2 the city would be putting money away in a reserve fund for future capital projects. The 1.99 rate “is realistic for what you’re providing,” he said.
All the revenue from the millage rate goes back to the city, Lister pointed out.