LAKE WALES – There was no public comment last week as Lake Wales held the first reading for a new budget that will see homeowners dig a little deeper into their pockets.

City commissioners agreed to hold the line on the current tax rate at $7.0438 for every $1,000 of assessed home value. It is the first time in five years the city did not use a roll-back rate or even a lower rate than the previous year.

The roll-back rate keeps total revenues raised by property taxes even from year to year. When property value growth is considered, it generally lowers the rate a bit each year because of that growth.

Officials estimated that even though the millage rate is staying the same for the 2018-19 fiscal year which starts Oct. 1, property owners will pay about 2.2 percent more in taxes because of an increase in their property value.

In addition, the new spending plan includes a new stormwater fee that will be tacked on to utility bills starting this fall. The majority of Lake Wales homeowners will pay about $60 annually now that the fee is in place.

City officials said they were pleased with the new plan, especially since it fully funds the city's reserves. Officials have indicated one concern is a proposed homestead property extension on this November's ballot. If it passes, the city anticipates a revenue loss in the neighborhood of $200,000. Officials said that by not using the roll-back rate again this year, about $110,000 in new revenue would be produced.

“There is no question that the city’s financial resources were severely strained during the recession (2007 thru 2014). The city continues to deal with the lingering impact of delayed infrastructure maintenance and economic growth within our city,” City Manager Ken Fields wrote in his budget message to the commission. “However, recent trends in both new commercial and residential development, including the reuse of formerly vacant existing buildings indicates that the city’s tax base is once again beginning to grow and that recent economic development efforts are paying off.”

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