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Plant City manager suggests maintaining the millage rate

PLANT CITY — City Manager Gregory Horwedel said Monday he'll urge city commissioners to hold property taxes at current levels when they meet next month to work on next year's budget.

The city is coping with a sluggish economy and the aftermath of 1,000 layoffs at Plant City companies in 2008 and 2009, Horwedel said. About a third of those jobs haven't returned.

"A lot of people are still hurting," he added.

His remarks came during the third annual State of the City address on Monday. With a crowd of about 100 gathered at City Hall, including city and county officials, Horwedel said the time wasn't right to raise the tax rate.

Plant City's millage rate ($4.72 per $1,000 of assessed property value) hasn't changed in three years and remains the lowest among governments in Hillsborough County.

If that rate stays the same, the owner of a house valued at $120,167 with a standard homestead exemption would pay about $450 in city property taxes.

It's hoped that leaving the rate unchanged will benefit taxpayers, encourage private investment and lure employers to Plant City.

But the move comes as the city's property values have declined because of the recession and slow economic recovery. The city anticipates a $240,000 revenue gap next fiscal year because of the value decline.

Horwedel said he'll recommend bridging the gap by dipping into the city's reserves. The city has $8 million set aside for emergencies — nearly twice the recommended minimum.

Also expected to help: increased fees for water and sewer usage, an anticipated 4 percent uptick in state sales taxes that flow to the city, and a 15 percent rise in revenue from development fees, he said.

So far this year, building permits have shot up 30 percent and building expansion permits by 270 percent. Among the projects are a $2.5 million facility being built by Brandon Regional Hospital and a $1.1 million expansion at South Florida Baptist Hospital.

"Things are still a little tight right now, but we're improving," said Dan Raulerson, who also spoke at the address.

Until Tuesday, Raulerson served as Plant City's mayor. Commissioner Michael Sparkman was named the new mayor by his commission colleagues. Raulerson resigned to run for state representative, but will maintain his commission seat until November.

Horwedel said the city's budget increased 6.7 percent this year.

All of that increase stemmed from two projects: a $1.9 million reclaimed water project on Sydney and Park roads, funded by a regional water district grant; and $2.3 million for sewer work in the Crystal Terrace neighborhood. The money for that came from a water utilities fund.

Not counting those two projects, the city's budget declined 1 percent.

Looking ahead to the next year, Horwedel said the city is expected to:

• Tackle the realignment of Wheeler Street in connection with future redevelopment of the Midtown area.

• Build five soccer fields at Ellis-Methvin Park

• Launch a $1 million repaving effort for various city streets.

• Sign a long-term agreement with Polk County to accept Plant City's trash.

The city's fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

Rich Shopes can be reached at rshopes@tampabay.com or (813) 661-2454.

Plant City manager suggests maintaining the millage rate 06/14/12 [Last modified: Thursday, June 14, 2012 4:30am]
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