Local News

AP council considers budget propositions

AVON PARK - City councilors talked about the annexation of 519 homes at Crystal Lake, user fees for sports fields, hiring five employees and lowering the 2014 millage rate. Prior to being hired in 2009, Avon Park's utilities system was in disrepair and the city couldn't pay its bills, City Manager Julian Deleon said Saturday during a budget meeting. "From time to time, commentaries are made that no one pays taxes in Avon Park," Deleon began an introductory narrative before introducing the budget to the council. The city limits contains 4,417 parcels worth about $193 million in taxable properties, he said, About 88 percent - 3,788 property owners - pay taxes, he said. However, only one pays $3,200 annually, one pays $1,200, and most of the rest fall below $25 per year. Non-profits and churches are not taxed.
Deleon's budget highlighted bright spots: The police pension liability scaled up to $212,000 in 2012, but decreased to $130,000 after the council contracted police protection with the sheriff. The city manager's budget fell from $284,000 in 2011 to an estimated $201,000 in 2014. The legal services budget jumped from $83,000 in 2011 to $189,000. The police budget was close to $2 million in 2011, in 2013 it fell to $1.7 million, now it's below $1.4 million. The fire pension plan is a continued concern. The liability was $284,000 last year; next year is budgeted at $344,000. For every dollar in payroll, 48 percent goes to the retirement system. The city is budgeting for a part-time fire inspector, but department expenditures are staying constant at $1.4 million. Two part timers will be hired as public safety officers. Two full-timers are being cross trained with five months of emergency medical training and sevens months in fire school. Property tax collections lowered from $1.3 million in 2011 to $770,000 in 2013 to $63,000 at the proposed new rate. Deleon assumed the city could not depend on a $110,000 contribution from the county to maintain city-owned baseball, softball and football fields. The county contributed $257,000 to Avon Park as recently as 2011 because county residents use the fields of the three municipalities, but the amount keeps dropping. "I'm assuming the worst-case scenario," Deleon said. "I think that's a good idea," Mayor Sharon Schuler agreed. Lake Placid has charged participants a $5 user fee for the past year, Administrative Services Director Maria Sutherland. The fee could be waived for city residents, city councilors agreed, because they already pay property taxes. "That fee doesn't go to the city though," City Councilor Terry Heston said. "No, it goes back to the field," Sutherland said. "It's been a tough road for Lake Placid, I'm not sure it's working yet. It was a very difficult for Lake Placid to have to do." gpinnell@highlandstoday.com 863-386-5828