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Clearwater's proposed budget maintains current tax rate

CLEARWATER — The city's preliminary 2014 fiscal year budget looks a lot like the summer reruns on TV.

City Hall watchers have seen this show before.

No tax rate increase. Just a few proposed hires —a couple of police officers for the beach. Revenues are up modestly. So are expenses, but not by much — just 1 percent over last year for the city's nearly $115 million general fund budget.

"Very similar," is how City Manager Bill Horne put it in his message to the City Council.

For the fifth straight year, Horne proposes holding the line on the city's 5.1550 millage rate. A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property value. The owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $515.50 in city property taxes.

The only change "of any significance," Horne wrote, is hiring two police officers to handle "enhanced" tourism and activity at Clearwater Beach.

At first look, some council members predicted a smooth ride for the 286-page document.

"I think the review will be pretty easy. We're really happy," said Doreen Hock-DiPolito after she received the budget Friday.

The first work session on the budget will be July 15, with two public hearings in September. The council is expected to adopt a budget at the second public hearing on Sept. 29.

Taxable property values rose 3 percent to $7.7 billion over last year, a $242 million increase. That will generate about $36.5 million for the city's general fund, about $1 million more than last year.

Public employee pension reform approved by voters in November reduced city costs in that area by $1.3 million, but the city projects rising insurance, medical and worker compensation costs for its 1,689 employees to account for the 1 percent increase in expenditures.

To balance the budget, Horne proposes shifting $1.4 million from the city's reserves, leaving $17.9 million in the rainy-day fund.

"It's a very conservative budget," Horne said.

Mayor George Cretekos told a group of neighborhood activists Monday that the average city tax bill — broken down by month — is less than a cable or cell phone bill.

"You're getting a pretty good bang for your buck," Cretekos said.

Charlie Frago can be reached at cfrago@tampabay.com or (727) 445-4159. You can follow him on Twitter @CharlieFrago

Clearwater's proposed budget maintains current tax rate 07/02/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 2, 2013 5:52pm]
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