Tuesday, January 23, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas commission set to discuss next budget, licensing board

CLEARWATER –– The Pinellas County Commission will be busy on Tuesday.

The end of the current fiscal year is approaching, so the commission's agenda includes setting the final millage rates for the 2017-2018 budget.

The commission could also address the situation with the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board, which was the subject of two reports Sept. 20. An inspector general's report outlined 93 problems with the agency while a grand jury outlined how to reform it.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Report slams Pinellas construction licensing agency and leaders

The licensing board, which faces a funding problem on top of everything else, is also seeking $25,000 from the county to help refurbish county offices where the agency could land cheaper rent and save money. The grand jury report also suggested that Pinellas County loan the agency money to keep it solvent.

In regards to next fiscal year's budget, another year of higher tax revenues means commissioners won't have to fight to pay for critical needs. Higher property values brought in an additional $77 million over the prior year.

But that won't lead to a spending frenzy. Commissioners and county administrator Mark Woodard have already said the county will not go on a spending spree.

Local officials across Florida are watching what they spend because of a constitutional amendment the Legislature put on the 2018 ballot. If passed, the legislation would add a $25,000 homestead exemption on properties valued at more than $100,000. Florida's counties would lose millions in property tax revenue if it were to pass, raising the homestead exemption to $75,000.

href="http://www.tampabay.com/blogs/the-buzz-florida-politics/senate-votes-to-put-75k-homestead-exemption-on-2018-ballot/2322304" target="_blank" >PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Florida Senate votes to put $75K homestead exemption on 2018 ballot

While the licensing board has long considered asking Pinellas County for help, the first official request was made last week by interim executive director Gay Lancaster.

The idea of moving the licensing board into a public building to save rent comes after the agency's governing board rejected the county's 2014 offer to give the agency space in a county-owned facility in Clearwater.

Then-executive director Rodney Fischer signed a five-year lease for $223,000 to remain in the board's current office in a private facility in Largo.

The agency currently pays $3,939 a month for rent plus utilities. Instead, it could pay $2,806 a month, utilities included, to move into the EpiCenter, a Largo facility the county owns together with St. Petersburg College.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Pinellas licensing board needs cash. Will the county give it any?

The agency also needs that $500,000 "bridge loan" to solve its looming financial crisis. The agency has projected it will run out of revenue and shut down in 2018 without financial assistance.

The Pinellas County Commission meeting starts at 2 p.m. in the fifth-floor assembly room of the Pinellas County Courthouse at 315 Court St. in Clearwater. The public hearing for the proposed $2.3 billion spending plan for the 2017-18 fiscal year starts at 6 p.m.

Contact Mark Puente at [email protected] or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente

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