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Largo to hold first of two 2012 budget hearings Thursday

LARGO — Thursday is filled with events of national importance. President Barack Obama is slated to address the nation about jobs. A new congressional committee on deficit reduction is scheduled to hold its first meeting. And yes, the Green Bay Packers will host the New Orleans Saints in the NFL's season opener.

But if you pay property taxes in Largo, there will be something going on locally that may affect your life next year more than any of the other events. The City Commission will hold its first of two hearings on the proposed budget for fiscal year 2012, which begins Oct. 1.

City management has proposed adopting the rollback rate — about 4.56 mills, up from this year's rate of about 4.31 mills — a recommendation that likely will spur debate between city commissioners.

The rollback rate is the tax rate that generates the same amount of tax revenue for the city after accounting for changing property values. According to the latest estimates by the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office, the taxable value of all property in Largo will drop 4.5 percent, meaning the tax rate increase is needed to keep the city's property tax income the same.

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 exemptions would pay about $431 under the current rate and about $456 under the proposed rate.

Although that tax bill increase could be mitigated for people whose property values dropped in 2011, Commissioners Curtis Holmes and Mary Gray Black have said they will not support the proposed tax rate.

The proposed rate would bring in $14,380,000 in ad-valorem income, according to city staff estimates. Last year's rate brought in $14,251,000. If commissioners ignored management's request and kept the rate at 4.31 mills, it would mean $653,000 less for city operations next year.

A four-vote majority is needed to approve the rate, and no other commissioners have said they'll join Holmes and Black in opposition.

"I know I'm on the losing side of this debate, but I'm going to stick to my guns," Holmes said.

The proposed budget calls for $64.8 million in general fund spending, up from $63.6 million in 2011. City management actually cut $2 million in general fund costs but will exceed the current year's spending in part because of having to put a new roof on City Hall at a cost of $1.5 million.

Mayor Pat Gerard and Commissioner Harriet Crozier lauded city management's efforts to pare spending and reiterated their support for adopting the rollback rate.

"It wouldn't be right if we don't (adopt the rollback rate), because we would be cheating the people out of what they deserve and what they want from their community," Crozier said.

One of those community offerings — the Largo Public Library — cut its Sunday hours this year as a result of budget cuts. The library lost 2.5 full-time equivalent positions this year and couldn't maintain the same schedule with fewer people.

Those positions were lost through attrition, but Largo did have a few layoffs this year as it trimmed 23.5 full-time equivalent positions to work toward a goal of $2 million less in general fund spending. Largo has eliminated 72.4 positions since 2008, part of $12 million in general fund spending cuts over that time period.

The second budget hearing is scheduled as part of the Sept. 20 regular City Commission meeting. City staffers will give brief budget presentations at both hearings, but the length of each hearing will depend on how many city residents turn out to speak.

Holmes hopes he sees a crowd.

"I want to hear from these people," Holmes said. "We're taking their money. This is their time to let us know what they think."

Will Hobson can be reached at (727) 445-4167 or whobson@sptimes.com.

>> If you go

Largo budget hearing schedule

Preliminary budget hearing and vote — 6 p.m. Thursday.

Final budget hearing and vote — 6 p.m. Sept. 20 (during regular City Commission meeting)

Both hearings are at Largo City Hall, 201 Highland Ave.

The proposed 2012 budget can be viewed online at tinyurl.com/3dr98js.

Largo to hold first of two 2012 budget hearings Thursday 09/06/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 6, 2011 5:00pm]
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