Bartow city residents probably won't see their taxes go up next year after city commissioners got their first look at the proposed $125 million budget for the next fiscal year.
The budget, proposed by City Manager George Long, calls for a 3.0862 millage rate — which will cost residents only about $3 per $1,000 for the taxable value of their property.
Long told commissioners that if they gave tentative approval of the suggested tax rate, they could come back at a later date and lower the millage rate, but that it would “require going through a lot of hoops” to do and they could not raise the rate once it is forwarded to the county property appraiser's office.
The commission tentatively okayed Long's budget plan, but since it was discussed only at last Tuesday's workshop, formalization will come later this summer. Long had to get tentative approval of the proposed tax rate so income estimates could be finalized.
Public input on the budget won't take place until September.
Earlier, at the commission's regular session on July 20, the commission agreed to jointly sign a letter to the city's federal legislative delegation and the White House, letting federal officials know that small cities need federal relief to continue coping with the pandemic.
Proposed by Commissioner Leo Longworth, the city leaders agreed to let the federal government know that Bartow has always been “fiscally conservative” and consistently had good audit reports.
Longworth said recent comments from federal officials suggested that smaller cities were lax in budgetary matters. The letter, Longworth told the commission, would also suggest that smaller cities could benefit from pandemic economic relief.
The commission also last week urged continued outreach alongside local agencies to “strongly” encourage residents to wear masks to help in containing the spread of the virus. Both city and county numbers of infections and death continue to rise in recent weeks.
Long told commissioners that the city would be posting signage reinforcing its stand on the voluntary, but strongly suggested, wearing of face coverings. The commission earlier this month opted not to mandate mask wearing, as both Winter Haven and Lakeland have done, but to continue its efforts to work with the Bartow Chamber of Commerce and other local outreach agencies to ask residents to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Polk Health Department suggestions for face coverings, hand washing and social distancing.
Longworth suggested that the city also reach out to local pastors and faith based groups for help in reinforcing the suggested methods to curtail or reduce the spread of the disease.
As of last week, there were more than 450 cases of the disease reported in the city.