Amid upscale homes and sun-glazed oceanfront, the residents of Belleair Beach have something else to relish this year.
The barrier-island city of 1,600 has an increasing property tax base — the first municipality to show growth in Pinellas County since 2007.
Belleair Beach's taxable property value will rise 3.5 percent this year, according to an estimate by Property Appraiser Pam Dubov.
"The neighborhoods are great. It's quiet. There's great beaches," Belleair Beach Mayor Kathy Mortensen said, noting the city is nearly built out. "It's prime real estate."
Its tony residences and beachfront condos tend to keep values better than older housing stock in hard-hit areas in south Pinellas such as Gulfport and Kenneth City, Dubov said.
Some north-county communities, like East Lake and Palm Harbor, fared well. Values there are expected to decrease by only 2 to 3 percent.
Gulfport showed the county's biggest drop, with a 10.5 percent loss in property value.
Gulfport City Manager Jim O'Reilly couldn't explain it except to say the housing market is troubled. The drop could deliver a $260,000 blow to the city's $10 million annual general fund budget, if tax rates stay the same. He and other officials will meet with Dubov next week to learn more.
"Obviously it'll have an impact on the budget," O'Reilly said, noting last year's decline was less.
Countywide, property values stand to decline 4.5 percent. Although values of condos and major equipment from utilities have to be finished, Dubov doesn't expect any changes greater than 1 percentage point in either direction. The values are based on the market as of Jan. 1.
While 23 of the county's 24 cities showed declines, most avoided the double-digit drops in taxes that hammered some budgets in recent years.
"The rate of decline in the market in 2010 was dramatically less than it had been in the two prior years," Dubov said.
Some city and county budget officials will get some relief because they had budgeted for steeper declines.
The county had a 9.7 percent decline last year. Early budgeting anticipated a 6 percent decline this year.
If the reduction stays at 4.5 percent, the county stands to receive $4.1 million more than planned in taxes. But Chief Assistant County Administrator Mark Woodard cautioned the added revenue could be wiped out by cuts to Medicaid funding or other state revenue.
In Belleair Beach, 12-year residents Richard and Marion Skinner said their single-story home's value seems to be rising again after a few years of decreases. Last year, the home's market value fell from $223,000 to $212,000, according to the Property Appraiser's Office
"Our taxes have stayed pretty much stable recently," said Marion Skinner, 76. "Nobody's going to say they pay too much."
A few homes have changed hands near their home on West Hibiscus Drive, and few large McMansion-style houses have gone up. One house nearby was demolished — but otherwise it's been a safe and quiet city, said Richard Skinner, 79.
The city's tax base shrank by 7 percent in 2010. Successive years of declines pinched spending, such as road and bridge projects. Raises were eliminated for the city's staff of seven full-timers and one part-time worker.
"It'll help, because our budget has been so tight for the past three years," said Belleair Beach City Manager Nancy Gonzalez.
The city has several other factors going for it. There's virtually no commercial property — subject to spiraling values — in the heavily residential, small area.
Median household income in Belleair Beach is $90,000, according to U.S. census research. The average sales price of homes is $304,000, according to the Zillow.com real estate site.
"We're strictly residents. … we do have a time-share — actually, two time-shares and a motel," Gonzalez said.
If the increase holds, the city, which has a $2 million budget, stands to increase its property tax revenue by about $26,000 for 2011-12.
There were nods and smiling heads when Dubov briefed city officials this week. But no one is spending the money yet.
"That's like counting your chickens before your eggs hatch," Mortensen said.
David DeCamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8779. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/decamptimes.