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Madeira Beach tax rate may remain same thanks to budget cuts

MADEIRA BEACH — Despite sharply reduced property tax revenues, the city's proposed 2009-2010 budget does not call for any increase in taxes.

The city's proposed property tax rate for next year remains unchanged at 1.7954 mills, even though this reflects a 15.9 percent drop in tax revenues.

"This is the largest decrease in values of any city, town or unincorporated area in Pinellas County," said City Manager W.D. Higgenbotham Jr.

Offsetting the projected $300,000 loss in tax revenues was his "greatest challenge" in balancing the city's budget, he said.

The property tax rate would have to increase to 2.1561 mills to generate the same revenue as last year.

Instead, Higgenbotham cut expenditures to offset the revenue loss.

"The proposed budget continues our trend of reducing staffing levels and discretionary expenses without sacrificing services levels," Higgenbotham said.

He cautioned, however, that if property values continue to decrease and the recession continues to impact other revenues, service levels may be affected.

"The cumulative effect of the property tax reform legislation, together with the struggling economy, will be increasingly difficult to meet without sacrificing such discretionary expenses and additional reductions in employees," he said.

For next year, overall department spending was slashed by 12.07 percent, which is on top of the previous year's 7 percent reduction in departmental spending.

One of the biggest cuts in the proposed budget is a freeze in city salaries. The firefighters' union has already agreed, but the city is still negotiating with the union representing general city employees.

Higgenbotham said the city also will freeze contributions to the city's retirement system.

Higgenbotham is recommending the city cut six staff positions: the code enforcement officer, a building maintenance worker, a recreation coordinator, a fire inspector, and two firefighters.

The fire department staff reductions and organizational changes "will afford us the opportunity to keep the Madeira Beach Fire Department", he said.

Keeping the city fire department was, perhaps, one of the biggest budget surprises.

Higgenbotham had considered closing the department and contracting with Seminole for fire services, a step that would have saved the city an estimated $230,000.

The city commission took an initial look at the $5.285-million budget Thursday and questioned only a few of the cuts recommended by Higgenbotham.

Commissioner Nancy Oakley questioned the need for a human resources officer.

"The people in town want to know. They are the ones footing the bill," she said.

"Every year now we kick around our city employees, making them feel worthless," retorted Vice Mayor Steve Kochick.

He wants to retain the code enforcement officer and the fire inspector, but did not receive support from other commissioners.

"I would like to keep those positions. There are no jobs out there and we'll be putting them out on unemployment," he said.

Commissioner Sarah Nichols was concerned the fire department could not provide adequate services with a reduced staff.

Commissioner Terry Lister wants the city to update its nine-year-old capital improvements plan.

The commission will set a tentative millage rate at Tuesday's regular meeting. Once set, the commission cannot further increase the property tax rate. The final rate could, however, be lower.

Madeira Beach tax rate may remain same thanks to budget cuts 07/11/09 [Last modified: Saturday, July 11, 2009 4:31am]
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