PINELLAS PARK — The mayor and one council member worried that proposed budget cuts would be too drastic and urged other council members to raise the tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year.
Council member Jerry Mullins, who earlier this month was the first to suggest increasing the tax rate, said he was concerned that rolling back taxes so drastically would, in the long term, be bad for Pinellas Park. Mullins suggested setting the tax rate for the 2008-09 fiscal year at 4.6050 mills rather than the 4.5478 mills that city staff members recommended. The higher millage would have added about $178,000 to the proposed $50.9-million operating budget.
"I don't think we should roll back the taxes this far. I think that it's going to cause a future problem for our city," Mullins said. "We're not going to be able to provide the services in a long-term situation with this kind of a tax base. … I think it's the responsible thing to roll them back, but not this far."
Mullins' comments were made during the Sept. 11 meeting before the council gave tentative approval to the 4.5478 mills tax rate and the budget. A final vote is set for 7:30 p.m. Thursday in the council chambers at City Hall, 5141 78th Ave. N. The meeting is open to the public.
Mullins said council members had been asked to cut out programs for kids, including DARE and the police and fire Explorers. DARE is an antidrug program run by the Police Department directed at elementary school pupils. The police and fire Explorers give teens a chance to learn about law enforcement or firefighting. Although those programs were not cut, Mullins said he fears those and other "quality of life" services would have to be eliminated in the future.
"I can't do that. I just don't think that our kids need this kind of a cut," Mullins said. "Myself, I believe that we are selling our children's future out from under them right now and if we don't give them the now, I can't guarantee them the future. I don't want to take the now away from them."
Mayor Bill Mischler said if the council adopted the higher of the two millages the difference to the average homeowner would be an estimated $4 to $5 a year. DARE and the Explorer programs are worth the money, he said.
"I don't think y'all want to cut these things out," Mischler said to the audience.
Mischler also pointed out the effect of rising fuel costs on Pinellas Park's budget. Fuel costs for this year are $400,000 over budget, and "it's going to be more of a deficit next year."
Although Mischler supported Mullins during the council discussion, when it came time to vote, the mayor did not put his vote where his rhetoric had been. Mischler voted to pass the budget, leaving Mullins the lone man out in the 4-1 vote.
Mischler halfheartedly laughed and said, "I'm going to say aye because I have to pass the budget. I can see where the numbers are. I just want to let you know I do support what he says. Why would I vote against the millage? That would be redundant."
But Mischler's vote was not needed to pass the budget. A simple majority is required and the proponents of the lower millage — Sandy Bradbury, Rick Butler and Ed Taylor — had that without Mischler's vote.