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Largo's tax rate could go up, but tax bills would go down

LARGO — City property owners may see a tax rate increase next year.

Three commissioners — Mayor Pat Gerard, Vice Mayor Harriet Crozier and Commissioner Gigi Arntzen — were leaning in that direction at budget talks last week.

Last month, a commission majority approved a preliminary tax rate of $3.84 for every $1,000 of taxable assessed value. That would bring in about $15.8-million. That's close to the money generated by this year's tax rate of $3.65 for every $1,000.

But next year, if the city were to keep the same rate, revenues would drop by about $1-million, largely because taxable property values have been reduced.

Largo's budget this year totals $133-million. Next year, a $143-million budget is proposed by city staff. City property taxes finance a portion of the total budget, often referred to as the general fund, which this year is about $61.5-million.

City operations will be squeezed in future years if the current tax rate is not increased, the staff said. The general fund would have to trim by about $5-million in fiscal years 2010 to 2013 if the current tax rate stays the same.

The higher rate of $3.84 would give the city $1.3-million more leeway in those years, staff said.

"I'd just like to see us give ourselves some breathing room," Gerard said on Thursday.

If the city doesn't think ahead, "a bunch of people or services are going to have to go," Crozier said.

But commissioners Rodney Woods and Mary Gray Black said they want to keep the current rate. Black, though, initially said she wanted to follow staff's recommendation, which called for the higher rate. Fellow commissioners reminded her that would be an increase. She then amended her stance, settling on the lower figure.

Even with a rate increase, the typical Largo homeowner would pay less in city taxes next year because of reductions in taxable value. For example, the owner of a home valued at $133,000, before a $25,000 homestead exemption, is paying $394 in city taxes this year. Next year, that homeowner's tax would be about $60 less.

Black and Woods also offered new proposals during budget talks.

Black suggested somehow merging the Community Center with the Cultural Center at Largo Central Park. The city is exploring relocating the Community Center at two other alternate sites.

Largo would have to renegotiate a contract with an architect if the city were to explore yet another site.

And Woods suggested putting off long-delayed plans to renovate the Highland Recreation Complex and instead use that money to rebuild and repair the city's sewer system, which needs a major overhaul.

>>FAST FACTS

Want to weigh in on city spending?

Public hearings on Largo's proposed budget are scheduled Sept. 11 and 23 at City Hall, 201 Highland Ave.

Largo's tax rate could go up, but tax bills would go down 08/16/08 [Last modified: Sunday, August 17, 2008 8:32pm]
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