Ocala City Council members caution ‘financial prudence’ in light of ‘unprecedented’ financial growth

In light of a stretch of “unprecedented” financial growth, Ocala City Council members cautioned that the city must exercise financial prudence.

The comments came during a workshop on Tuesday to review the city’s 2019-2020 fiscal budget. After a presentation from City Budget Director Tammi Haslam, council members praised staff’s efforts in working on the budget. But despite the economic growth the city has experienced in the past five years, Haslam indicated that the city was recently counseled by to take a cautious approach.

“We are in uncharted territory with regard to the length of positive economic growth in this country. We’re not sure if and when that pendulum might swing back toward a recession,” explained Haslam. She went on to state that during a recent meeting to discuss the city’s investments, financial advisors cautioned that there was uncertainty surrounding the economy.
Council members echoed her concerns.

“We’re on a historic run here of economic improvement and we need to realize that there is an end. We don’t know when that will be. So we always just have to be prudent with every dollar we have and make sure we’re spending taxpayers’ dollars wisely,” said councilman Justin Grabelle, who represents District 5.

Councilman Brent Malever, who represents District 1, echoed a similar sentiment.

“I’ve seen a lot of budgets in my lifetime. This is about the easiest one I’ve sat through. I agree, we need to be a little on the cautious side, because seven years is coming and something might change,” said Malever.
During Haslam’s in-depth review of the city’s 2019-2020 fiscal year budget, she indicated that the city’s budget for the upcoming fiscal year would be $820,374,511. For the fifth straight year, the millage rate would remain constant at 6.6177.
Millage rates are used to calculate local property taxes. The rate represents the amount per $1,000 of a property’s assessed value. The millage rate is multiplied by the total taxable value of the property in order to obtain a property’s total tax liability.
Although the millage rate has remained constant for the last five years, the city plans to collect nearly $31,000,000 in ad valorem revenue next year, an increase in ad valorem revenue from this year of over $2,060,000.
The city’s general fund, which is used to support public goods and services, will represent $118,658,794, with approximately 46% of the general fund going towards services from the Ocala Police Department and Ocala Fire Rescue. That represents a 2% increase over the 2018-2019 portion of the general fund devoted to OPD and OFR.
According to Haslam, the One Cent Infrastructure Sales Surtax, also known as the Penny Sales Tax that was approved by Marion County voters in 2016, will remain relatively flat for the upcoming fiscal year. Around 48% of the revenue from that tax is devoted to infrastructure projects, while 26% is devoted to OPD and 26% to OFR.
Haslam also provided detailed breakdowns of all of the city’s additional funds, including the enterprise funds (airport, electric, golf, Ocala Fiber Network, sanitation, and water resources) and the 50 different Capital Improvement Projects that will cost the city $29,2017,536.