The next few weeks will establish the financial playbook for the coming year in Pinellas County's beach communities.
Cities must approve property tax rates and budgets for the 2011-2012 fiscal year by Oct. 1. Each city is faced with balancing its budget in yet another year of declining property values.
The choices are cutting spending, dipping into reserves or increasing property taxes. Because of declining property values, an increase in the tax rate might still mean less money for the city budget.
And despite the difficult economic environment, millions of dollars will be spent on special capital projects. Here are some highlights of each city's proposed budget:
The property tax rate will remain unchanged at about $1.98 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value, according to the administration's recommended budget, but the City Council does have the ability to raise the rate to about $2.18 after the final hearings. Belleair Beach has the unique standing as the only city in Pinellas County to show an increase in property values, which went up 3.5 percent. The city plans to spend $2.1 million next year, which includes a 19.2 percent pay increase for the city clerk and a 4 percent merit increase for all employees. Capital projects include improvements to parks and streets, as well as additional beach raking and street sweeping.
The tax rate for this tiny town of about 55 homes is projected to remain unchanged next year at about $0.66 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. The town plans to spend only $84,095, mostly for the salary of its city clerk/treasurer, who will be getting a 5 percent pay hike. No capital projects are planned.
In an effort to replenish its coffers after three years of declining revenues, the city is proposing a tax rate of $4 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. That's a 15 percent increase over the current rate of $3.47. The city expects to spend $21.75 million next year, of which about half, $10 million, is for general operations.
The budget calls for cutting four employees in the parks department and outsourcing mowing and landscaping. Still to be decided is whether to outsource police dispatching to the Sheriff's Office. Remaining employees will not receive raises for the second year in a row.
Major projects planned include buying a $400,000 fire engine and spending $140,000 to replace the Recreation Complex roof. The city also hopes to receive a $2.7 million grant to relocate its Police Department to 49th Street and a $1.5 million grant to improve drainage, also on 49th Street.
INDIAN ROCKS BEACH
The city plans to keep its tax rate unchanged at $1 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. The city will spend $7.7 million including $2.9 million for operations next year and has set aside a $40,000 pool of money to pay employees a one-time salary adjustment. No changes in personnel are contemplated. Capital projects planned include $250,000 for expanding the city's Historical Museum and $250,000 for building new city docks.
Town officials are proposing to raise the tax rate about 5.7 percent, from the current $1.75 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value to $1.85. The town plans to spend $3.55 million, of which most ($2.66 million) will cover general operations, which were cut 6 percent across the board. For the third year, town employees will not get raises. The town also is considering reorganizing its public services department, including contracting out for many services, but those changes are not yet reflected in the budget. No special capital projects are planned with the exception of completing construction of the new town hall.
Despite a 4.6 percent decline in property values and corresponding falling revenues, the city is holding the tax rate unchanged at about $1.80 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value for the third year in a row.
The city's $12.3 million budget includes $5.5 million for general operations and a significant increase in capital spending. The number of employees remains unchanged, although there is a significant reorganization under way. The human resources manager and community services director positions were eliminated, the city manager's post will include oversight of public works, and three new positions were created: two firefighters and a fire/code inspector.
No raises for employees are planned, although the city is still negotiating with unions representing general employees and firefighters. Perhaps the biggest priority in the city's $1.688 million capital budget in the coming year is rehabilitation of a good portion of the city's streets ($500,000). The city is also planning to spend $150,000 to rehabilitate City Hall, $300,000 for seawall replacement, $200,000 to rehabilitate Archibald Park, $125,000 for gutter and curb replacements and $200,000 for beach walkovers and groins.
NORTH REDINGTON BEACH
The proposed tax rate remains unchanged at about $0.75 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property values. The town will spend $1.65 million overall including $833,134 for general operations. Town employees already received a 3 percent salary hike in July to cover state-mandated pension contributions Next year only the town clerk is scheduled to get a pay hike, 2 percent, in an effort to bring her salary in line with other towns. The only special project planned for next year is the replacement of all street and stop signs with more decorative signage.
The proposed tax rate remains unchanged at about $1.94 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value, despite a 4.52 percent drop in overall property values. The town's $1.2 million budget does not project any new major spending and does not provide any salary increases for employees, who did get a 1 percent raise this year. No special capital projects are planned for the coming year.
Despite a loss in property values, the town is proposing to keep the tax rate unchanged at about $2 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. The town plans to spend $3.52 million next year for general operations, sewer operations and capital improvements. Employees are slated to get a merit pay increase of up to 3 percent. Special projects planned include purchase of a beach tractor, construction of a crosswalk at the Pinellas County park, and $300,000 to pay off a loan associated with previous burying of utilities throughout the town.
The proposed tax rate is about $1.79 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value, about a 5 percent increase over this year's rate of $1.70, but that would keep tax revenues the same as this year.
The city plans to spend $7.8 million overall and $4.925 million on general operations. Nonunion employees are scheduled to receive a 3.2 percent cost of living raise, while firefighters will get a 1.5 percent increase under their contract. The only major expense planned is the purchase of an $850,000 ladder truck.
ST. PETE BEACH
The proposed tax rate is about $2.86 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value, about a 7.1 percent increase over this year's rate of $2.67. That is expected to produce the same amount of revenue as this year. The $22.7 million budget includes increases in employee pay up to 4 percent, provides for a 20 percent increase in pension costs and funds an extensive list of capital projects.
The budget calls for cutting two positions in the parks and recreation department. Capital projects include: $470,000 for citywide street rehabilitation, $300,000 for streetscaping and improvements along Corey Avenue, $50,000 for engineering/permitting for improvements to the municipal marina, $50,000 for engineering for Pass-a-Grille Way improvements, $150,000 for community redevelopment plan implementation on Gulf Boulevard and $295,000 for landscaping along Gulf Boulevard and the Pinellas Bayway.
The proposed property tax rate is about $3.14 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value, about a 16.7 percent increase over this year's rate of $2.69. That will fund a $22.5 million budget and help pay the debt service on loans needed for infrastructure projects.
Raises for employees are not currently part of the budget, but the commission is considering dipping into its reserves to fund a 1 percent pay increase once negotiations with its firefighters union are completed.
The city is planning some major capital projects: $4 million to replace the bridges to the Isle of Capri and the Isle of Palms, $1.6 million for building the central beach trail, and $3.77 million for burying utility lines along a portion of Gulf Boulevard.