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Vero will rely on reserves to meet city’s budget needs


Every municipal budget in the Florida is in flux as the local-share numbers for sales tax and gas tax receipts diminished by COVID-19 are due out by Friday, but it looks like the City of Vero Beach will be able to afford all the essentials, plus salary increases and eight additional employees in October without a tax rate hike – if the City Council balances the $25.2 million budget using its rainy-day fund.

State revenue sharing plus the local-option gas and sales taxes amount to about $3.6 million, or 14 percent of the city’s general fund budget, according to City Manager Monte Falls and Finance Director Cindy Lawson. Those receipts for March to date are expected to take a hit, but how much was not known when the first draft of the budget was finalized in preparation for two days of budget workshops this Wednesday and Thursday.

The Vero City Council was set to decide whether to use a portion of the city’s $2.5 million “budget stabilization fund” to pay for all the staff and council’s priorities in the budget. “This would enable the city to maintain stable service levels until next year, when the long-term impacts of the pandemic on the state and local economy may be better understood,” Falls said in his budget message.

Other options on the table are cutting expenses, raising taxes, or a little of both. As the budget is written, which includes tapping the reserves, the property tax rate would remain flat at $2.50 for every $1,000 of taxable value. Thanks to a 3.86 percent increase in overall property values in the city, that will bring in an additional $245,000 in revenue. If approved, that rate of 2.5 mils would net $7.5 million in property taxes for the general fund.

The city’s budget has gradually been drifting upward each year, going from $23.9 million in 2018 to $24.8 million in 2019.

The budget calls for 3-percent raises citywide at a cost of just over than a half-million dollars, though police officers have petitioned for a 5-percent increase and those negotiations could impact the budget further.

The eight new positions would bring the number of employees up to 383. One of the new positions will be charged to the general fund and one to the city’s marina. The other six will be funded by the water, sewer and reuse irrigation water rates of Vero’s utility customers inside the city, on the South Barrier Island and in Indian River Shores. Utility Director Rob Bolton said those six people are needed to comply with the Clean Waterways Act requirements, and to prepare for moving the sewer plant off the river.