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Dunedin commissioners wary as they start 2014 budget planning

DUNEDIN — Statewide growth in population, jobs, building permits and home sales isn't yet at high enough levels to spur significant jumps in revenue in Dunedin, city officials said Tuesday.

Finance director Karen Feeney said Penny for Pinellas revenues remain below projections — roughly $2.8 million versus the annual $3.4 million projected when voters approved the 1-cent sales tax program years ago.

However, she said, Penny revenues last year fared better than expected. And she anticipates a slight increase by the end of this fiscal year and next, which would be in line with county and state projections.

Nonetheless, as Dunedin city commissioners start discussions about the 2014 city budget, they remain cautious, given the slow recovery of the economy.

Penny for Pinellas, approved in 1990, distributes the sales tax revenues among cities and the county to reduce reliance on property taxes to pay for capital improvements like roads, bridges and parks.

"We're short really every year throughout the rest of the Penny," which ends in 2020, Mayor Dave Eggers said during a Tuesday morning workshop. "So let's not keep reaching into the Penny for magical solutions. We don't have the money, according to this. In fact, we not only don't have the money, but we have to come up with some other ways to make this balance."

That balance so far, Feeney said, has included taking one project — an $860,000 Patricia Avenue realignment — off the table for now and decreasing the cost of a few other capital projects.

For example, the city will push on with reconstructing San Christopher Drive and Michigan Boulevard, extending the roads' useful life 15 to 20 years. However, public works staff on Tuesday recommended shaving $1 million or more from the cost of each road by foregoing the addition of modern features like curbs, gutters, bike lanes or sidewalks.

Citing a countywide push for pedestrian-friendly communities, Eggers asked staff to research the cost of adding bike lanes.

He also wants to review how savings from the months-old citywide recycling program might affect trash rates, while Commissioner Julie Scales wants to explore the possibility of rolling out varying trash bin sizes.

Other items commissioners asked staffers to try to find money for include:

• 2 percent employee raises, which officials hope will increase morale.

• Professional development training and travel funds for employees. Commissioners believe the move would increase employee retention.

• An increase in commissioners' personal budgets from $750 to $2,000 annually to help fund training. According to Scales, commissioners' budgets have been cut over the years by 80 percent and the proposed amount is still half of what commissioners previously received.

The next budget year starts Oct. 1. Dunedin has a budget workshop set for May and three in July. Commissioners will adopt a final budget following public hearings in September.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or ksummers@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Dunedin commissioners wary as they start 2014 budget planning 03/12/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 12, 2013 7:18pm]
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