‘MANAGE HARD’: Former councilman says tax increase will send 'bad message' to residents

Matt Algarin
The city's millage rate will increase from 1.455 to 1.500 if approved by city leaders at their Sept. 17 budget hearing.

With an increase to the city's property tax rate slated for approval in less than two weeks, former councilman Larry Hines urged city leaders to reconsider the 3.1 percent jump.

"I do want to request that you do not raise the millage rate," he said, calling the move "premature." "Really, for me it's a matter of principle."

Based on discussions so far, city leaders appear poised to increase the millage rate for the first time since 2008. The bump would see the rate go from 1.455 mils, currently, to 1.500 mils.

City Manager Maryann Ustick told city leaders during Tuesday night's City Council meeting that the average home in Destin would see their tax bill increase by about $9, based on the new rate. She also stressed that due to fluctuating values, some residents would see an increase, while others wouldn't.

"Over the past five or six years, while the millage rate has remained the same — 1.455 — the staff and council have been working as a team to try and keep, to find better ways of doing business with the declining resources that we had," she said. "However, we are at a point where the rising costs and the additional infrastructure and facilities that we've acquired and maintain over the last number of years has necessitated a minimal increase of 3.1 percent."

For Councilman Tuffy Dixon, supporting the increase only made sense, as he said the city has more than $30 million in debt.

"We carry a lot of debt... and I have to vote yes on this because of that," he said.

While the increase may be a "small amount," Hines told the council that other entities in the county planned to raise their rates as well increasing the burden on residents. He also said an improving real estate market and solid bed tax numbers were a plus for the city that negate the need for a tax increase.

"I think you are going to send a really bad message to the residents," he said. "Keep it where it is, manage hard and work hard like you've been doing."

Despite the request from Hines, city leaders unanimously agreed to move forward with the millage adoption process. The rate will be up for a final vote during a budget hearing Sept. 17 at 6 p.m. at the City Hall Annex. The public is welcomed to attend.