Tuesday, May 22, 2018
News Roundup

Clearwater's budget is back on solid ground

CLEARWATER — The city's budget, once in free fall, is back on solid ground, stabilized by resurgent property values and rainy-day reserves.

With the city's $113 million general fund growing by $4 million since last year, city leaders are pushing for a "status quo" budget that could end years of deep fiscal cuts.

The city's property tax rate will likely stay the same, a preliminary budget shows, and the city workforce won't face further layoffs. Most, in fact, will receive raises.

"Clearwater has weathered another budget storm," Mayor George Cretekos said. "Hopefully things are going to get better next year. I'm feeling optimistic."

Property values here dropped $110 million over the last year, continuing a 33 percent drop since their 2007 peak but slowing in their decline. Property tax revenue, the lion's share of the city's operating fund, dropped 1 percent.

All city departments were told to cut 1 percent of spending, leading to $700,000 in cuts. Other city taxes and charges, from business tax receipts to boosted revenues at Pier 60, helped fill the fiscal gap.

Changes to city pensions — an agreement reached by city and union negotiators — could save the city $4.5 million in their first year. But first they'll need voters' approval in a November referendum.

In the meantime, city leaders will balance Clearwater's budget using $1.6 million saved in the city's $20 million general reserve fund.

Another $1.4 million in reserves will go toward new vehicles for the fire department: $500,000 to replace one of eight front-line fire engines and $850,000 to replace a heavy rescue unit carrying specialized equipment for fires and car crashes.

City staffers recommended to City Council that the property tax rate remain at 5.15 mills, or $5.15 for every $1,000 of taxable property. For example, owners of a $150,000 home with a full $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $515 in property taxes.

The city shed a fifth of its workforce in the last five years, with more than two dozen firefighters, police dispatchers and other employees cut last year.

But no large layoffs are planned for the next fiscal year. In fact, the city is adding employees to its stormwater and gas systems, as well as an officer for its newly begun red-light camera program.

Administrators and general employees will be given 2.5 percent raises, and unionized police officers and firefighters will receive 2.5 percent bonuses, over the next year. City Council salaries, which pay members about $20,000 a year, will be increased 3.6 percent.

Construction will begin over the next year on two projects funded by the Penny for Pinellas sales tax: the $4.7 million renovation of the Countryside Library and the $2.3 million renovation of the Sid Lickton baseball and softball fields, located near the Clearwater Airpark.

Another $500,000 will be spent to refurbish the Pier 60 bait house, eroded by saltwater, and a $1.2 million development-services center in the Municipal Services Building, as suggested by last year's Business Task Force.

Improvements to Bright House Field, a new water treatment plant in Countyside, and more than $500,000 on traffic calming in the Wood Valley and Hillcrest neighborhoods will also account for city capital spending.

The city will spend $150,000 less than first estimated to maintain tennis and basketball courts, swimming pools, playgrounds and park amenities like lights and benches.

The City Council will discuss the budget July 16 and the property tax rate July 19. The budget's first public hearing will be Sept. 4, with final adoption set for later that month.

Contact Drew Harwell at (727) 445-4170 or [email protected] Send letters to the editor at tampabay.com/letters.

Comments
Academy at the Lakes wins first state softball title

Academy at the Lakes wins first state softball title

VERO BEACH —Academy at the Lakes waited two weeks to play in the Class 2A state softball tournament in hopes of winning what has been an elusive title.The Wildcats completed the first task Monday, cruising to a mercy-rule win over Fort Pierce John Ca...
Updated: 22 minutes ago
Lightning-Capitals: Tampa Bay’s Game 7 to-do list

Lightning-Capitals: Tampa Bay’s Game 7 to-do list

TAMPA — By now there are no more secrets. After six games over 11 days, the Lightning knows all the Capitals' habits , and the Caps know all the Lightning's.To Lightning coach Jon Cooper the outcome of tonight's Game 7 of the Eastern Conference...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Couple whose dream boat sank finally set sail on ‘new adventure’

Couple whose dream boat sank finally set sail on ‘new adventure’

The young couple whose story traveled around the world after their dream voyage ended early at the bottom of John’s Pass is ready to try again.Three months after the Lagniappe sank, Nikki Walsh, 24, and Tanner Broadwell, 26, said they set sail Tuesda...
Updated: 1 hour ago
USPS to release scratch-and-sniff stamps; Leaks? White House has sinkhole; 2 Oregon teens take down homophobic school officials; more in U.S. news

USPS to release scratch-and-sniff stamps; Leaks? White House has sinkhole; 2 Oregon teens take down homophobic school officials; more in U.S. news

Updated: 2 hours ago
Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

Sheriff: Weeki Wachee High student posted fake school shooting threat

WEEKI WACHEE — A 16-year-old was arrested Tuesday on allegations that she created a fake social media post threatening to shoot students at Weeki Wachee High School, according to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Office.Deputies said the 16-year-old told...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Driver gets 28 years in prison for fleeing fatal Howard Frankland crash

Driver gets 28 years in prison for fleeing fatal Howard Frankland crash

TAMPA — After Allison Huffman slammed her car into a tow truck driver who had stopped to help a pair of stranded motorists on the Howard Frankland Bridge, she drove to a hotel and got out to look at the damage.She saw shattered glass, a bare tire rim...
Updated: 2 hours ago
Police: St. Pete man who pried a safe out of the wall in custody

Police: St. Pete man who pried a safe out of the wall in custody

ST. PETERSBURG — It took more than an hour for a 25-year-old man to break into a restaurant, pry a safe out of the wall, drag it through the back and then wrestle it into his car, according to police.That was last week. Michael Murphy was arrested Tu...
Updated: 3 hours ago
FSU starter Josh Ball faces Title IX suspension over dating violence accusation

FSU starter Josh Ball faces Title IX suspension over dating violence accusation

Florida State starting offensive tackle Josh Ball faces a university suspension after a Title IX investigation found him responsible for dating violence.The suspension came to light in a Facebook post Monday afternoon by Sandra Sellers, an FSU studen...
Updated: 3 hours ago
Here’s why there are so many coyotes and why they are spreading so fast

Here’s why there are so many coyotes and why they are spreading so fast

For eons, coyotes roamed what is now the western United States, with its wide-open plains. Then came European settlers, who cut down forests for farms and ranches in a steady east-west march. Along the way, they killed large predators such as pumas a...
Updated: 3 hours ago
HBO: Ex-Buc Scot Brantley battling Alzheimer’s, claim denied by NFL

HBO: Ex-Buc Scot Brantley battling Alzheimer’s, claim denied by NFL

Former Gators and Bucs linebacker Scot Brantley, also once a popular sports radio host in Tampa, is battling Alzheimer's Disease and has been rejected from the NFL's concussion settlement, according to tonight's episode of HBO's "Real Sports with Bry...
Updated: 3 hours ago