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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Dunedin budget planners aim for property tax reduction, employee raises

DUNEDIN -- The city would lay off one employee and give all others 3 percent raises, but still manage to reduce the city property tax rate, under a preliminary budget proposal released Tuesday.

The working document calls for a 6 percent reduction in the tax rate. It also calls for a roughly $20 increase in the annual stormwater rate.

The recommendations presented to city commissioners during a Tuesday morning budget workshop were compiled using prior feedback from commissioners as well as input from employees and department heads.

The information will be reviewed by the board of finance, which will present its own suggestions to the commission in July. The commission eventually will adopt the final budget following public hearings in September.

"We're not in the position a lot of cities are in, to have to make some hard cuts," said finance director Jeff Yates. "The city's in good financial shape."

Budget planners say they've so far managed to draft next year's budget without dipping into the city's $7.5 million reserve fund.

City Manager Rob DiSpirito said the city staff has cut costs through efficiencies, reorganizations and eliminating more than 60 positions over the last several years.

For the first time this year, department heads built their budgets from the ground up, justifying each line item, rather than using the traditional method of finding ways to cut last year's budget.

For months, commissioners have been pushing for bonuses for city employees, who haven't had raises in two years.

Officials said that, with the recent savings, the city could dedicate $330,000 of the general fund to raises to, according to DiSpirito, "reflect the realities of inflation and additional work."

The proposal also calls for job audits and an additional $10,000 to accommodate wage adjustments for staffers who have taken on dramatically different duties.

It also would allow employees who leave their jobs after only five years, instead of the current six, to take their city retirement accounts with them. For most employees, policy requires them to forfeit their accounts to the city if they leave before they've put in six years.

Under the proposed budget for the fiscal year that begins Oct. 1, five positions would be cut through attrition or eliminating vacant positions, and one employee - a special events coordinator - would be laid off. Officials would create one new position and introduce three through reorganizations.

Staff recommended reducing the tax rate by 6 percent to $3.35 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value. That would mean a resident who had a $100,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would see a tax bill of $167.30, which is $10.69 less than last year's rate, Yates said. He said the reduction would collectively save taxpayers $400,000.

Citizens now pay $7.40 a month in stormwater fees. The preliminary budget suggests a monthly increase of between $1.60 and $2 to accommodate the city's "ambitious" stormwater repair and improvement schedule, DiSpirito said.

Water, sewer and solid waste rates would not change under the current proposal.

[Last modified: Wednesday, June 8, 2011 2:59pm]

    

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