Challenged to find a way to balance the city budget without a .9 mill increase in property taxes, Mayor Howard Wiggs tonight proposed a plan that would combine a .5 mill hike with a partial fire fee. It didn’t pass muster.

Wiggs sprung the plan on other commissioners at the start of the second and final public hearing on the 2015-2016 budget.

The reaction from his colleagues? Commissioners Edie Yates and Don Selvage said the idea is worth considering next year but the business at hand tonight was the revenue plan passed on first reading two weeks ago.

“I wish you would have brought this before us earlier,” Commissioner Philip Walker said.

Replied Wiggs: “I wish I had thought of it earlier.”

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In the end, the commission approved the .9-mill increase 5-2, with Wiggs and Commissioner Justin Troller dissenting — the same split as initial passage on Sept. 3. Immediately following, commissioners approved the $53o million budget 6-1, with Troller casting the only nay vote.

The new tax rate of $5.56 per $1,000 of taxable property will produce about $27 million.

Any drama about the outcome of tonight’s vote was removed when Selvage made a case for maintaining city services, noting, “This city is serving more people with fewer employees” and telling the audience to listen to facts, not rhetoric.

It was Selvage who provided the fifth vote needed to pass the millage rate two weeks ago, but he noted at the time he wouldn’t necessarily support the .9 mill rate in the final tally.

 Wiggs failed to find support for his last-minute plan. It would have replaced the revenue raised by the .9-mill increase by combining a .5-mill property tax increase with a fire assessment fee at 25 percent of the total allowed.

The use of a fire fee, he said, would spread the revenue burden to more individuals. “I believe all citizens should pay for public safety services,” he said at tonight’s meeting.

Speakers at the meeting largely oppose new taxes, but at least two individuals  said Wiggs’ proposal seems reasonable.

Here is Wiggs’ memo outlining the revenue proposal:

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Barry Friedman founded in 2015 as the culmination of a career in print and digital journalism. Since 1982, he has used the tools of reporting, editing and content curation to help people in Lakeland understand their community better.

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