The Newberry City Commission approved a tentative budget and millage rate at its regular meeting on Wednesday.
While the millage rate of 5.900 mills is technically the second property tax reduction in two years, it is about 10% higher than the rollback rate of 5.381, which would produce the same amount of money as last year’s 5.9244 rate.
Assistant City Manager Dallas Lee told the commission that while the new rate is higher than the rollback, that does not mean residents are necessarily paying more.
The city of Newberry’s tentative budget for the 2023-24 fiscal year was approved at $43,167,065, but the commission also voted down two projects which were allotted at $150,000. That money, intended for a cemetery fence and wage study, will be put back into the general fund.
Lee suggested the newly freed-up $150,000 could be used to lower the millage rate, offset debt the city has planned to issue or to fund a different project.
Commissioner Mark Clark was absent from the meeting, so the four remaining commissioners were split evenly over the new fiscal year’s compensation plan.
The compensation plan provides pay raises for city employees across the board, but several commissioners wanted to consider removing from the plan raises for senior employees who attended a training for which they were promised an extra 7% raise.
City Manager Mike New said that while freezing senior staff’s pay is doable, he opposes reducing anticipated pay around which staff already built a balanced budget. In order to make that budget work, every department has already worked out a 5% funding cut.
“If we get to the end of the process, and we say, ‘well you guys got an increase for going to a class so the increases that we were planning for all of your teammates, you’re not eligible for,’ I think negates their two years in class,” New said. “It just negates it, tells them that we were just kidding when we started the class two years ago.”
New said a pay study the city completed showed that senior staff are the most underpaid, but none of the senior staff members complained when those results came out. Instead, he said they continue to put in 50-hour work weeks because they genuinely like their jobs.
Commissioner Rick Coleman, who originally wanted to stop the extra raise that is meant to come with the training, said New makes a good argument and the commission does not need strife.
“The main thing is I just want the lower-tier guys to get a raise… I’m not bowing in, guys, I’m not doing that,” Coleman said. “It’s just that, overall, everything needs to be noncontroversial here.”
The budget will come before the commission for its final hearing at the next regular meeting on Sept. 25 and is set to take effect on Oct. 1.
Newberry’s utility rates will also rise slightly, leaving the average projected utility bill about $10 higher than last year, but with Newberry’s utility rates still the most competitive in the area. The only rate that is not projected to be the lowest in the area is water, which staff said will be five cents more expensive than the city of Alachua’s.
The commission asked staff to figure out somewhere to get the five cents from, to lower the water bill.
“I just want to beat Alachua. I love to beat Alachua,” Mayor Jordan Marlowe said.