Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Told to Slash Budget; Brunswick to Review Spending after Outcry

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

City Told to Slash Budget; Brunswick to Review Spending after Outcry

Article excerpt

Byline: Terry Dickson, Times-Union staff writer

BRUNSWICK -- The Brunswick City Commission yesterday instructed City Manager Roosevelt Harris to find ways to cut a budget that would have included a 40 percent increase in property taxes.

Mayor Brad Brown said outspoken public opposition in two meetings in the past two weeks convinced him to reconsider the city's spending plan.

"It's obvious to me people weren't happy with the direction the budget was going in," Brown said.

The city has already reduced its 2002-03 budget to $13.8 million, a decrease of $800,000 from the previous year. The fiscal year began July 1.

But despite a smaller budget, the city's $240,000 annual rent on a temporary City Hall and reduced sales tax and other revenues left Brunswick looking at property tax increases to make up the losses.

Had the budget been adopted, the taxes on a $100,000 house would have increased from $440 per year to $600 per year.

Brown said he wants to look at options other than raising property taxes.

"I keep saying there are other sources of revenue out there we need to find," Brown said.

Among them are service fees for churches and other organizations exempt from property taxes, similar to fees charged by other cities, Brown said.

The fees would be like the sanitation and water-sewer fees that tax-exempt organizations already pay, but the funds would pay for fire and police protection, Brown said.

"There are a lot of churches in the the city," he said. "I'm not throwing off on churches, but that's a tremendous drain."

The city frequently loses tax revenue because churches buy up property, including rental housing, and it becomes tax-exempt, Brown said.

He also favors a new fee structure for city recreation programs that would better defray the actual costs.

"A lot of county residents use our recreation programs because they don't cost anything," Brown said.

Although he came prepared to cast the lone vote against the budget, it quickly became clear that other city commissioners weren't willing to take the heat without first trying to cut the budget. …

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