Several city leaders are leaning toward raising the maximum property tax rate above the current rate.
And they're asking residents to decide: Do you want to keep certain services, like John R. Bonner Nature Park, and pay more? Or do you want to lose those services and pay about what you pay now?
"I want to hear from the public," Commissioner Rodney Woods said at last week's city meeting. "What are you willing to pay for?"
The maximum rate, which city commissioners will vote on Tuesday, sets a cap on how high the tax rate can go when commissioners vote to approve next year's tax rate in September. It's also the rate shown on the notices of proposed property taxes that will be sent out by the Pinellas County Property Appraiser next month.
The city's current tax rate is about $3.84 per $1,000 of taxable value. Several commissioners said they'd likely support a maximum rate of about $4.31 per $1,000 of taxable value. That rate, known as the rollback rate, will bring in about the same revenue as the current rate. It's higher than the current rate because of a 10.5 percent drop in city property values.
"It's better to set a tentative rate that's a little bit higher," Commissioner Gigi Arntzen said Friday. "It gives you some wiggle room for discussion."
Numerous residents have pleaded with city leaders to keep Bonner Park open.
But Arntzen didn't sound eager to raise the tax rate to do that, especially with other severe cuts on the table in the proposed budget.
"We're cutting positions. We're not giving raises," Arntzen said. "It's not fair."
The city staff has proposed a budget that includes no raises for any city workers and the loss of the equivalent of 10 full-time positions.
Ultimately, commissioners may choose the current rate, the rollback rate, or anywhere in between. For some, that choice depends on what feedback they get from residents.
"I think this gives us room in order to have flexibility," Commissioner Robert Murray said last week.
After a homestead exemption, the owner of a home with an assessed value of $200,000 this tax year could pay from $1 to $71 more next year, depending on the rate the commission decides. For example, if commissioners set the rate at $3.94 per $1,000 of taxable value, that same owner could pay about $16 more.
Despite a drop in property values, assessed values can go up slightly, about 0.1 percent, for homesteaded properties because of the rules of the Save Our Homes tax cap.
"If you want us to fund some of the things you've come to value in the city," Mayor Pat Gerard said, "you need to let us know that it's okay with you that you pay $16 more in your taxes next year."
Lorri Helfand can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4155.