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Cuts but no crisis in Tarpon Springs proposed budget

TARPON SPRINGS — Thanks to some creative number-crunching and a little bit of luck, the city is poised to make a smaller-than-expected dent in its reserves next year.

But the city has still allocated $1.5 million from its backup pot to balance the $20 million operating budget.

"We've never actually used that much," said city finance director Arie Walker, because actual revenue and spending can vary from the budget estimates.

The City Commission will hold its first public hearing on the 2012-13 budget Thursday, the first of two this month. The entire budget, including the capital outlay fund, totals $51 million.

City officials initially faced a higher deficit — caused in part by falling revenues — but they knocked the figure down, in part by winning a discount from the city's health insurance carrier.

The city also made $191,000 in additional cuts and transfers. It found $117,000 in savings by reorganizing three departments. The consolidations eliminated some vacant positions and shifted job responsibilities.

City commissioners approved the reorganizations at their last meeting. In an earlier budget workshop, they urged departments not to slice too deeply while pinching for savings.

"We still have a very healthy reserve," Mayor David Archie said at the workshop. "We aren't in a crisis position."

Officials said they don't expect the proposed reductions to significantly affect services. As of last year, the city held more than $10 million in reserves.

All of those savings, particularly from the health insurance, made it possible to offer most city employees small raises, between 1 and 2 percent of their salaries.

One sizeable expense next year comes from a $551,000 bump in capital expenditures. The increase goes toward replacing aging equipment and renovating buildings, including adding new roofs to the city clerk's office and the old police building.

"You can only postpone doing things for so long," said finance director Walker.

The city's millage tentatively stays at the previous two years' rate of 5.45. With falling property values, that means the city will collect about $250,000 less in ad valorem taxes next year.

A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed, non-exempt property value. The owner of a home valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $545 under the proposed 2013 rate.

Thursday's public hearing starts at 6:30 p.m. in City Hall, 324 E Pine St. The commission has scheduled a second public hearing Sept. 24.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at (727) 445-4155 or swang@tampabay.com.

Cuts but no crisis in Tarpon Springs proposed budget 09/11/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 11, 2012 6:41pm]
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