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Oldsmar tentatively keeps tax rate flat, while Safety Harbor opts for increase

This summer, Oldsmar learned that its taxable value dropped 10.4 percent, or $125.6 million. Safety Harbor's fell 8.5 percent, or $92.9 million.

With those realities as backdrops, leaders in both cities set out this week to adopt tentative budgets and set tax rates.

They could have implemented deep tax increases, laid off employees, reduced library hours or taken any number of other cost-cutting steps.

Instead, they spared their residents — as much as they could — from severe tax increases and cuts to city services.

"When people can't even pay the taxes that they're getting hit with in general," Safety Harbor Mayor Andy Steingold said, "how do you expect them to pay another $10, $20, $50 more? People out there are barely getting by."

• • •

Wednesday evening, Steingold and Safety Harbor city commissioners considered a proposal to raise the tax rate from the current $3.0674 per $1,000 in taxable property value to $3.7189.

In the end, commissioners rejected the original proposal for one less severe: $3.3808.

At that rate, the owner of a home assessed at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $338.08 in taxes instead of $371.89. Currently, the bill is $306.74.

Some officials favored the larger increase so Safety Harbor wouldn't have to dip so much into its reserves.

"What I have seen for the last four years is that we have brought in the same amount of revenue to balance our budget," Commissioner Mary Lynda Williams said. "And we have continued to reach into our reserves.

"If you try and run a household and you're not bringing enough money into your checking account, you're having to hit the savings account. Eventually, you're going to seriously deplete it.

"Even with this increased millage rate, we still will be hitting reserves, just not as bad. It will be softening the blow. At some point and time, we can't continue doing the same thing year after year, reducing our reserves. Something's got to give."

But Steingold and Vice Mayor Joe Ayoub said they could not justify such a high tax rate when the city could tap into its savings.

"We have money," Steingold said.

They heard from Pat Schneider, the only Safety Harbor resident to address the commission before the votes.

Schneider said she loves and adores Safety Harbor. She said she knows that "it takes money to run a city.

"But I'm asking you to … look at every budget line and cut where you can."

• • •

The next evening, Oldsmar council members voted to keep the millage rate the same as the last three years, $4.05 per $1,000 in taxable property value.

The process wasn't nearly as long as the one in Safety Harbor, which lasted nearly two hours. With little discussion, Oldsmar's votes on the tax rate and budget took less than nine minutes.

"I commend staff on the fine job, the department heads and all the employees for helping us to get to this point," Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker said. "We've done a good job of keeping our tax rate at least maintained and not lose any services or anything like that so we commend you for that."

Said council member Janice Miller: "We're doing pretty darn well."

Rodney Thrash can be reached at rthrash@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Fast facts

What's next

Residents can address Oldsmar and Safety Harbor leaders before final adoption of the tax rates and budgets at the following meetings:

Oldsmar: 7 p.m. Sept. 23 at Oldsmar City Council Chambers, 100 State St.

Safety Harbor: 7:30 p.m. Sept. 20 at Safety Harbor City Commission Chambers, 750 Main St.

Oldsmar tentatively keeps tax rate flat, while Safety Harbor opts for increase 09/10/10 [Last modified: Friday, September 10, 2010 9:00pm]
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