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Water and sewer fees may increase in Plant City

Officials meeting Monday to start work on next year's city budget said property taxes likely will stay the same, but costs for water and sewer service could go up.

City Manager Greg Horwedel said a combination of service cuts and layoffs over the past four years, including a 17 percent reduction in staff, have lessened the need for drastic cuts and higher property taxes next year.

Only one layoff is envisioned — in the city's General Services Department, which maintains city-owned properties. Officials might also leave vacant the community services director position after current director James McDaniel retires next year.

Horwedel said McDaniel may stay on as a part-timer or an independent contractor to oversee the cleanup of the downtown's brownfields, set to start by the end of the month at Ball and Evers streets. The environmental work could take two years.

The commission has been reluctant to increase taxes during the slow economic recovery, and commissioners praised the administration's frugal spending approach. The city's millage rate of $4.72 per $1,000 of assessed property value remains the lowest among governments in Hillsborough County.

If commissioners keep that rate the same, the owner of a house valued at $120,167 after a standard homestead exemption would pay $450 in property taxes.

"I think a lot of residents will be grateful," Commissioner Mary Yvette Thomas Mathis said after the hour-long meeting at City Hall.

Under the spending plan, wages for most city employees wouldn't change and fees for recreation services, building permits, planning and zoning reviews, and engineering inspections would stay the same.

However, costs for water and sewer service, which are tied to the consumer price index, could go up 2 to 3 percent because of fewer customers over the years. Horwedel stressed those rate increases are not definite.

One problem facing Plant City and other Florida municipalities is the loss of revenue as businesses have closed and homeowners have moved out as the economy sputtered.

Those problems seem to be receding lately, but they haven't disappeared altogether and the city anticipates a $274,088 revenue shortfall next year.

Horwedel said the recent stabilization seems tied to an uptick in local sales tax collections, a year-over-year increase in collections of permit and engineering fees, and a slower rate of decline in property values.

The commission will meet twice more to discuss the budget before scheduling a public hearing in September. The next budget meeting is set for 4 p.m. July 23. The fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

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

Water and sewer fees may increase in Plant City 07/12/12 [Last modified: Thursday, July 12, 2012 4:30am]

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