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Largo commissioners set preliminary tax rate higher

LARGO — Robert Hunsicker thinks city commissioners are out of touch with their constituents.

Hunsicker, who is running for city commissioner, told them so at last week's meeting, minutes before commissioners voted on setting the maximum millage rate for next year's budget.

City Manager Mac Craig asked for a 9.7 percent increase in the property tax rate. Commissioners voted 6-1 in favor of the rate, which would bring more than $1 million extra into city coffers, according to staff estimates, and keep Largo from having to cut its budget again next year.

But before the vote, the commissioners had to hear from several residents. The first was Hunsicker.

"The frivolous spending must stop," said Hunsicker, 69, referring to money spent on the city's Recreation, Parks & Arts Department that he thinks should be spent on the Police Department and Fire Rescue, or not at all.

"The Largo taxpayers deserve better," he said.

If Hunsicker hopes to beat opponent James Robinson in November, he'll need more support at the polls than he got at Tuesday night's meeting. Eight people followed him to talk about the budget. Seven supported a tax hike. Most were avid users of Southwest Pool and had heard rumors that city management was considering closing it to save money.

May-li Cuypers moved to Largo in 2006 from Belleair Beach. One of the major reasons she chose Largo, she told commissioners Tuesday, was the city's recreational offerings.

"I know that when it comes to budget reduction, parks and recreation has been an easy target," said Cuypers, 45, a veterinarian. "I think that cutting services is going to affect our quality of life. So I am all for increasing the millage rate."

Tuesday's vote was the first of three by commissioners on the 2013 budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1. The tentative millage rate they approved Tuesday — 4.9999 mills — will be used by the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office for Truth in Millage notices, which will be sent to property owners in late August.

One mill is equal to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property. The owner of a home valued at $100,000 after any exemptions, for example, paid Largo about $456 in property taxes under the current millage rate of 4.5594. That same homeowner would pay about $500 under the preliminary tax rate.

City commissioners will discuss the budget again in August, and will vote twice in September before it and the tax rate are finalized. Those votes are tentatively scheduled for Sept. 4 and Sept. 20.

Commissioner Curtis Holmes was the lone dissenting vote Tuesday. He told commissioners he didn't understand why ideas he supported, like leasing Largo Golf Course or considering private management for Southwest Pool, didn't get a closer look while city management cut $2.6 million from other parts of the budget.

But if Tuesday was any indication, Holmes could be on his own in September as well. Commissioner Robert Murray said he wants to hear more before making a final decision, but no other commissioners indicated any second thoughts about the proposed tax hike.

"As much as it's harder to pay a few more bucks in taxes," said Mayor Pat Gerard before the vote, "these are the times people need the services we provide."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Largo commissioners set preliminary tax rate higher 07/21/12 [Last modified: Saturday, July 21, 2012 4:30am]
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