Clewiston commission votes to keep tax rate steady

CLEWISTON — Residents of this city will not pay any more in taxes due to the amount the city commission levies in fiscal 2020. If anyone’s total city ad valorem bill rises for next year, it would happen only because their property appreciated in value.

The city commissioners voted unanimously to keep the property tax rate, or millage, at $6.5314 per $1,000 of assessed valuation. From the report provided by Finance Manager Shari Howell, Mayor Mali Gardner told them at their meeting July 22 that the “rollback” rate, at which the city would generate roughly the same revenue as during 2019, would be a millage of 6.3086, based on preliminary estimates of state revenue expected, which is expected rise by several thousand dollars. If commissioners decide to stay at $6.5314 when the budgeting process concludes, “it would increase our ad valorem revenue by roughly $54,000,” Ms. Howell explained, “but we can always go lower at any time.”

When the mayor called for discussion, City Commissioner Julio Rodriguez said, “I recommend we go with the current (millage),” making a motion to that effect.

“See, I don’t want to go any higher than that. If we decide to go lower as we look at the budget, then I’m fine, but I don’t want to increase any taxes. That’s my point,” he explained. With a quick second from Vice Mayor Michael Atkinson, Mayor Gardner then called for any other comments from commissioners or from the audience. No one asked to speak. The motion was approved 4-0, with Commissioner Kristine Petersen absent.

In other actions, the Clewiston City Commission:
• Reappointed on a 4-0 vote the Planning and Zoning Board (PZB) members Lewell Hughes, Donald Hughes, Robert “Mickey” McGahee and Charles “Jerry” Cochrane for two-year terms.
• Approved, 4-0, a recommendation by Community Development Director Travis Reese and the Planning and Zoning Board to change the city Code of Ordinances, Section 58-10, which deals with roadside sales of merchandise, to allow the sale of automobiles, recreational vehicles or boats of merchants that currently hold a valid business license with the city within allowable zoning district. City Attorney Gary Brandenburg said this was pursuant to a request by Alan Jay Chrysler Dodge Ram Jeep of Clewision that the PZB approved June 19.
• Delayed consideration of these items for further discussion: a commission request to review the changing of dedicated alleys to easements by altering the definition of “rear setback” in the city code; and an update of the City of Clewiston Honesty, Integrity and Government in the Sunshine Guide. The commission had directed May 6 that City Attorney Brandenburg proceed with a new draft of the city’s code of ethics guide, but Mayor Gardner asked the commissioners to consent to a delay until Aug. 19 or later so that they could talk over the proposed changes with new Clewiston City Manager Randy Martin.
• Also delayed consideration of a request by Stephen E. and Norma R. Schneider to vacate a city-owned parcel behind their home at 800 W. Royal Palm Ave. The PZB had recommended approval of the abandonment, with the applicants incurring any fees or costs from deed, survey or legal paperwork resulting from it. The commission, pointed out Mayor Gardner, did not have all the needed items to make a decision that night, because “we have no idea what the value of that property is. I don’t believe a decision could be made tonight unless we’re just going to deny the request without having more information,” she added. City Attorney Brandenburg noted they had no appraisal and proceeding would require the adoption of an ordinance with first and second readings plus public hearings, but he would need to add a deed restriction to prohibit future construction on the land. After some discussion of whether that would pose a hardship to the applicants, and an offer from a couple of commissioners that perhaps the city should pay for the appraisal, Mr. Schneider responded to a commissioner’s question from the audience by saying he would pay for it. Mr. Rodriguez made and Mr. Atkinson seconded a motion to delay the item until they had the information, which passed 3-1 with Commissioner Melanie McGahee voting nay.

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