Dundee Struggles With Shortfall, May Raise Taxes

By Margarita Martin-Hidalgo
The Ledger
margarita.martin-hidalgo@theledger.com

DUNDEE -- The third round of budget talks wasn't much different from last week's -- except that council members suggested raising property taxes to help eliminate a $76,000 shortfall and better fund some departments.

The proposed budget totals $3.7 million.

Councilman Steve Foskey proposed the town increase the property tax to $8.50 per $1,000 of assessed value, but Vice Mayor Doreen Sears proposed that it be increased to $8.25 for the budget year that starts Oct. 1.

Dundee's property tax rate is $7. That means a person with a home valued at $75,000 would pay $3,500 a year in taxes after the $25,000 homestead exemption.

At $7, Dundee's tax rate is the fifth highest in the county, along with that of Eagle Lake and Frostproof.

Raising taxes was not something the council wanted to do, but council members don't think they have too much wiggle room to cut operating costs to make up for the $75,948 shortfall.

Town Manager Matt Brock used money from a reserve fund to cover the shortfall.

"I'm not happy with raising anything," but dipping into the reserve fund was out of the question, Sears said after the meeting. "You don't pay your operating expenses with your savings."

Although he proposed the increase, Foskey didn't think raising taxes was fair for everybody because, he said, about 33 percent of residents do not pay taxes.

In addition to adopting a higher tax rate, council members are considering raising water and garbage collection fees and adopting a fire fee.

While they admit they'll have to do some more belt-tightening, firing personnel is not an option for council members.

Council members also want more money to better fund their library, and recreation and fire departments. The Fire Department would be one of the hardest.

The proposed spending plan would cut Chief Chip Johnson's budget by nearly 25 percent, and two of his three part-time firefighters aren't funded in the budget; neither is a rescue truck Johnson said the town desperately needs.

The recreation department and library are also losers in the budget, but council members want to make sure they are properly funded.

Thelma Jones, the library's director, said she wants to hire one of her part-time employees full time.

At a July 24 meeting, Jones said her assistant was a valuable asset to her, particularly because she is bilingual.

Yesenia Ortiz, a former volunteer, speaks English and Spanish. She has been working at the library as a paid employee for nearly two years, Jones said.

Resident Randy Dowd told the council it was important to have learning resources and recreational activities for the town's children.

"Our youth is the most precious thing" in the town, he said.

Sears assured Dowd and other residents that "none of us want to cut the library or recreation department."

Mayor Joe Garrison, who was absent from the meeting Tuesday night, said Wednesday he would not vote in favor of raising taxes.

"We simply cannot spend more than we make," said Garrison, who is up for re-election this year. He is in his third term as mayor.

Before raising taxes, Garrison said he would like to explore alternatives, such as cutting personnel and lowering the proposed raises to department heads.

Garrison said he thinks the town could do without some employees, such as the evidence intake official at the Police Department and the assistant to Finance Director Larry McNabb.

The council will continue reviewing the budget at a workshop next week. The council will meet Wednesday instead of Tuesday. The meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. in Town Hall.

Margarita Martin-Hidalgo can be reached at margarita.martinhidalgo@theledger.com or 863401-6967.