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Shores Town Council approves 2 percent tax hike

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER, (Week of September 15, 2011)

Faced with the dilemma of whether to dip into its reserves to pay bills, the Indian River Shores Town Council instead approved a two per cent property tax increase for the coming year.

Much lower than the advertised maximum tax rate sent out on Truth in Millage (TRIM) statements in August, the approved tax rate of $1.47 per $1,000 of taxable property value is about two per cent higher than the "rollback rate." The rollback rate is designed to net the same amount of taxes from property on the tax rolls as last year.

The slight increase in property taxes will eliminate the need to take money out of reserves this year.

That tax increase will net roughly $31,000 in additional taxes to help fund the $310,000 Shores officials voted Friday to add onto the town budget. The general fund budget for the Shores is just less than $4.7 million, of which about $3.3 million goes to support the town's hybrid police-fire Public Safety Department.

In addition to three per cent salary increases for all employees, the seven per cent increase in the town budget includes $215,000 to buy a new ambulance. The ambulance comes out of state cost-sharing revenue which must either be spent on vehicles or buildings, so the decision to purchase the ambulance does not affect property taxes.

The new ambulance will replace a 12-year-old vehicle with one the same make and model of the town's newer ambulance known as "Big Red." According to public safety staff, having two of the same ambulances will make ordering supplies and training of paramedics more efficient.

On the revenue side, the town is hoping to bring in $100,000 in new funding by charging for ambulance transport for the first time. The town set up the necessary processes to be able to bill Medicare for reimbursement for trips to the hospital which result from calls to the Public Safety Department.

Since more than 95 per cent of town residents are eligible for Medicare, it was decided that the town would most likely not engage in billing private insurance companies, as the extra paperwork would result in negligible additional income.

The public safety department will also be getting new hoses and bulletproof vests as the existing ones are due to be replaced.

Though long-term issues such as underfunded pensions are something the Shores will need to monitor closely in coming years, the town was not under the gun to trim its budget this year as was the case at the county level. 

Property values in the Shores were only down about 2.5 per cent, compared to other parts of the county which took an eight to 10 per cent hit. Plus, the Shores had some high-end new construction and major remodeling of homes to add to the tax rolls.