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Kenneth City taps reserves to keep tax rate steady

One resident calls police Chief Michael Rossi’s actions arrogant.

One resident calls police Chief Michael Rossi’s actions arrogant.

KENNETH CITY — With the end of budget season fast approaching, council members here have apparently figured out a way to keep from raising property taxes — take it out of savings.

Kenneth City property owners currently pay about $4.76 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. That would remain steady in the coming fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. The owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay about $476 in town taxes.

The Town Council's decision to balance the 2013-14 operating budget by using moneys from savings won't be final until later this month. It's a consensus that has taken months of rancorous arguments that have pitted council members and the police chief against each other and has seen residents accusing the chief of attempted intimidation and poor behavior.

"I perceive his actions as arrogant," Kali Gillespie said of police Chief Mike Rossi. "He thinks he's a sixth council member, I think. . . . My concern is that there are residents that would like to speak out but are afraid of retaliation."

Rossi denied having problems with town residents.

"There's no story there to even respond to," he said.

The Police Department has long been a lightning rod for disputes in the town. But this summer's budget battles over Rossi's proposed improvements to the department, its equipment and training have been especially nasty. One meeting, in late July, prompted written complaints from Gillespie and Ellen Dalbo, another town resident.

Dalbo, who could not be reached for comment, described the situation this way in her email to Mayor Teresa Zemaitis: "I had turned to the chief and the other officer who were whispering in the back of the room, and asked them to please stop. The response I got was that if he, the chief, needed to speak to his officer he would. Of course the conversation was comments about the fiasco that was going on with the board. I stared at him and he made a comment about not staring at him."

Later, in the same meeting, resident Larry Hauft spoke against one of the proposed police initiatives. On his way back from the podium, he verbally tangled with Rossi, who asked him to step outside. Hauft said only that "it occurred" and refused to comment further, saying the town government has multiple problems at all levels and he's tired of trying to help improve things.

But Gillespie wrote Zemaitis an email detailing the encounter:

"I was appalled to see the chief approach Larry Hauft, who had just spoken at the podium, and demand he 'step outside.' When Larry questioned, 'why?' he repeated 'step outside'

"After Larry stepped outside, I observed the chief flailing an arm with a paper in it. It was obviously not a civil conversation — based on his facial expressions and body language.

"I went outside and suggested to the chief that his conduct was less than professional, especially at a public meeting. I perceived his actions as arrogant and an attempt to intimidate a resident who exercised his First Amendment right."

Rossi said he has no problems with Hauft. The two have spoken since then, he said, and relations have been cordial. If there were differences, he said, they have been ironed out.

"There was nothing of any significance happening," Rossi said of the incident. "There was no falling out with me."

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

Kenneth City taps reserves to keep tax rate steady 08/30/13 [Last modified: Friday, August 30, 2013 6:14pm]

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