Wellington residents could see a higher tax bill this year after the Wellington Village Council voted Tuesday to set its preliminary tax rate at 2.5 mills, up slightly from last year’s rate of 2.47 mills.
Residents will also see a $100 increase in their non-ad valorem assessments for the Acme Improvement District, which rose from $200 last year to $300 this year. That money will go largely to improve drainage throughout the village.
Council members voted unanimously to approve the preliminary rate and increased assessment.
The “truth in millage” or TRIM rate of 2.5 mills means a property tax of $2.50 for every $1,000 of taxable value. At that rate, the owner of a home assessed at $150,000 after all exemptions would pay $375 in village property taxes next year.
State law requires the village to set its preliminary tax and assessment rates in July. Municipalities may lower the rates before final adoption in September but cannot raise them.
Wellington staff proposed a tax rate of 2.47 mills, which will bring in about $770,000 more in revenue due to increased property values and a rise in new construction projects, Village Manager Paul Schofield said.
For the first time in many years, Wellington’s budget has grown. Next year’s proposed budget of $78.7 million is up $4.24 million or 5.7 percent.
The budget as proposed is made up of $50.25 million in governmental funds, up $6.62 million from last year, and $19.32 million in enterprise funds, up $27,000.
Capital projects are budgeted at $3.3 million, down $1.3 million, and utility capital projects make up $5.3 million of the budget.
Wellington will retain 283 employees, 16 more positions than last year.
Public hearings on final adoption of the proposed budget and tax rates will take place in September, when the council will make its final decision.
Councilman Matt Willhite suggested preliminary approval of a higher tax rate, concerned that the increased funds could be needed if the village faces another storm like Tropical Storm Isaac.
“We’re not allowed to raise our rate once we set [this],” he said. “Even raising the millage rate by one-tenth only raises $500,000. Even if we went up to 2.6 mills, it’s only a half million dollar increase. What would that do for us in a storm?”
Willhite said he wasn’t advocating for final adoption of a higher rate, but wanted the option if needed. “It gives us the leeway to come down and show our residents that we are being fiscally sound come Oct. 1,” he said.
Vice Mayor Howard Coates noted that maintaining a rate of 2.47 mills would amount to an uptick in revenue because of improved home assessment values.
“Even though the rate is the same, we’re still getting more money from our taxpayers,” he said. “What is that amount of money?”
Schofield said it was about $773,000 more. “But about half of that is new construction,” he explained.
Coates said that although in the past he has not been in favor of setting the tax rate above what was requested by staff, he believed there was cause for concern in light of recent storms.
“I wouldn’t be opposed to setting the rate at 2.5 [mills] for TRIM purposes,” he said. “But I’m still not inclined to give staff more money than they are asking for. I will not support that as an adopted rate if staff is coming back with a Christmas list of items they want to pursue.”
Councilwoman Anne Gerwig noted that Wellington would have to lower the tax rate to take in the same amount of money from taxpayers as last year. “At 2.47 [mills], that’s an increase,” she said. “That’s costing [residents] more money.”
She said she would support 2.5 mills for a preliminary rate, but wouldn’t support it on final adoption. “I just don’t think it’s necessary,” she said.
Councilman John Greene agreed. “Even adopting the same rate as last year is a tax increase,” he said. “I want to give us the flexibility to revisit this, but I’ve never been a fan of raising taxes.”
Mayor Bob Margolis said he felt giving Wellington some leeway was necessary.
“Typically this is not the rate we will see come October,” he said. “But as Mr. Schofield said, there could be an issue.”
To help mitigate future drainage issues, residents will be assessed $100 more in their non-ad valorem assessments for the Acme Improvement District, which manages water in most of Wellington. The funds will go toward improving drainage and elevating roads.
“That’s about $8 a month.” Margolis said.
The increase will fund about $29.3 million in drainage improvements, including increasing water storage, improving canals and elevating low-level roads. The project would be done over 10 years and would raise roads such as South Shore Blvd., Pierson Road and Forest Hill Blvd., which flooded during Tropical Storm Isaac.
“Those are early on in the process,” Schofield said. “The other things that are early in the process are the conveyance and storage improvements, so we can move water through the system. The improvements are what people have been asking for most vocally for the past year and a half.”
Margolis agreed. “The residents are demanding we do something about it,” he said. “We get a lot of e-mails about it.”
Gerwig asked about how many people would be affected, and Schofield said about 75 percent of Wellington residents are in the Acme Improvement District.
The improvements would be for the overall flow of water, Gerwig said. “This won’t address issues in individual neighborhood issues,” she noted.
Schofield said that was correct.
“We will never be able to completely eliminate flooding,” he said. “What this will do is provide additional storage and allow water to move more quickly through the system. Where we had a problem during Isaac was in our ability to move water east and west. The lowest areas in the village are in the southwest corner. This will allow us [to move water out of the area] more efficiently.”
Willhite said he felt it would be beneficial to work with other communities toward a regional water strategy.
“I’d like to see the village try to put together a meeting with [other local leaders] to start talking about water issues as they relate to the western communities,” he said. “I’d like to see if there’s some things we can do across boundaries.”
Willhite said that although he was concerned about the increase, he felt it was necessary to curb future drainage woes.
“It’s a substantial increase we’re talking about percentage wise, but the amount really is nothing when compared with the improvements we’re talking about doing,” he said. “This is one of first times we’ve really added to residents’ tax bills on the Acme side of it. It’s not something this council has taken lightly; it’s out of response to something that has happened to us, and something we’re trying to mitigate for the future.”
Coates made a motion to set the TRIM rate at 2.5 mills and approve the increased assessment. Gerwig seconded the motion, which carried unanimously.
ABOVE: The Wellington Village Council.