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Pinellas County plans to cut workers, raise fees to balance 2011 budget

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County's proposed budget for 2011 will make casualties of hundreds of people who rely on the county for health care, shelter or jobs.

The $1.62 billion spending plan unveiled by County Administrator Bob LaSala on Tuesday is a 3.6 percent decrease from this year, fueled by falling property tax revenue.

While operating costs are falling 10 percent, construction and other capital projects actually increase $78 million under the proposal. Fees also will increase, notably to go into parks, but also for other services, like development.

"It doesn't matter about the reduction in taxes, it's all these little fees … that kill you," Commissioner Calvin Harris lamented.

Proposals commission will review before final vote on budget Sept. 21

Jobs: The proposed budget eliminates 439 positions. Many jobs were vacant, but layoff notices were sent to at least 216 people through Tuesday. The county's work force will be 25 percent, or 1,612 positions, smaller than in 2007, and the fewest under a county administrator since 1985. No raises will be given for the second year in a row.

Taxes: The general fund tax rate remains at $4.81 per $1,000 of real estate. A property assessed at $150,000 would pay the county $481 if it has a homestead exemption. Because of falling property values, taxes will decrease for many, but not all, homeowners. The county rate doesn't include taxes for EMS and fire districts — which are going up in some areas — schools and other agencies.

Parks: A $5 charge to enter Fort De Soto Park will be added, with a $3 fee to park at other regional parks and preserves. A $75 annual pass will be available. Bikers, pedestrians and campers are exempt. The fees will keep the parks from closing two days a week as LaSala had originally proposed.

Special projects: The $78 million increase is slated to pay for projects like computer upgrades, roads and $3 million to $8.5 million on a chiller unit to cool buildings in downtown Clearwater. That money could be used to reduce layoffs, but county officials promise it will end up paying off in future savings.

Animal control: Two mobile veterinary vehicles will be discontinued, although the county wants to find a private group to take them over. If not, spay and neuter services will decrease.

Reserves: The rainy day fund is $94 million, or 16 percent of the operating budget. The money is mainly meant for emergencies, like a hurricane. But $20 million more is set aside to help prepare for lower tax revenue next year — money that commissioners could target to stave off cuts to health care.

Health care cuts: A cut of $7 million will mean less funding for social service groups and 1,500 fewer people will be able to participate in health services for the needy. The county also would stop funding social workers for homeless outreach teams with police and sheriff's offices, although a $1 million fund for homeless services could be tapped for the teams.

Pinellas County plans to cut workers, raise fees to balance 2011 budget 07/13/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 13, 2010 10:36pm]
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