Tuesday, May 22, 2018
News Roundup

Projected budget deficit in St. Pete Beach calls for tough decisions

ST. PETE BEACH — City commissioners face a hard choice this year: to drastically cut vital services such as police and fire or to sharply raise property taxes.

The reason is a projected budget deficit of $1.25 million caused mostly by a $752,000 increase in pension fund costs.

"The big gorilla in the room is the pension contribution," finance director Elaine Edmunds told the commission during a prebudget work session last week.

City Manager Mike Bonfield is reviewing all department budget requests. And following up on a commission discussion, he is planning to meet with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office to find out how much it would cost to contract for law enforcement services.

The police department's budget alone is $4.56 million. A referendum, however, would be required to change the city's charter to eliminate the police department.

According to Bonfield, even if negotiations with police, fire and employee unions bring some relief, it wouldn't be sufficient savings for several years.

"You can't fix an ongoing problem with one-time revenue," Bonfield said to suggestions by some commissioners to delay some capital projects in order to reduce the deficit.

Cutting employees is not a real option, either. The city now has 30 fewer employees than it did in 2003, saving the city about $1 million since then.

"The property tax is the only revenue we have any control over," Bonfield said. "We would have to cut a lot of people to make any significant dent (in the budget deficit). You are talking about some significant changes in services."

Currently, the city's portion of homeowners' property tax bills is set at 2.8569 mills ($285.69 per $100,000 in taxable assessed property values after all exemptions).

That is only slightly below the 2.9 mill rate levied in 2009 and significantly under the 2.3764 rate levied in 2008 and 2009.

And although the sharp fall in property tax values of the past few years appears to be at an end, Bonfield cautioned that property tax revenues will not increase significantly any time soon.

The city's tax rate is among the lowest for similarly sized cities that operate both police and fire departments, he said. Those services now make up 52 percent of the city's budget.

At first, commissioners were strongly opposed to any increase in property tax rates, but as they heard more about the city's financial situation, that attitude began to change.

"If you (Bonfield) say you can't close the (budget) gap, and if other options are unacceptable, then I would be willing to look at the tax rate," Commissioner Jim Parent said. "How could you not?"

Bonfield said the city would need to increase taxes up to a half a mill to balance the budget without other serious cuts in personnel or services.

"We just need to look under every rock," Commissioner Marvin Shavlan insisted, adding that a tax increase would be his last option. The city's 2011-2012 budget was $22.7 million.

The city's legal bills, nearing $50,000 a month, will be one major cost the City Commission plans to review in the coming months.

"In February we went through the attorney's budget for the entire year," Edmunds told the commission, adding that she will ask the commission to approve a $250,000 increase for attorney fees at its Tuesday meeting.

That prospect did not please Commissioner Bev Garnett, who called for an independent audit of the attorney's bills.

"We just need to make sure we are getting our money's worth," she said.

The notion of considering eliminating the police department Commissioner Parent said, "… is a touchy subject, but we need to look at every single area."

Shavlan agreed, saying considering law enforcement costs is the commission's "fiduciary duty."

Ironically, the debate over the future of the city's police department comes just as the additional voter-approved property tax of 0.0895 mills for paying off the police station debt is about to end.

The city is projecting to spend nearly $1.9 million on capital projects next year, mostly to maintain the city's current facilities and infrastructure.

Not yet on the spending list is $875,000 in priority projects including designing reconstruction of Pass-a-Grille Way, streetscaping Corey Avenue west of Gulf Boulevard, a new gymnasium floor, rehabilitation some city alleys and a new phone system for City Hall.

Other capital projects the commission has discussed doing in the future are not on the list either: creating of a traffic couplet in the Corey Avenue area, reconstructing Gulf Winds Drive, rebuilding Pass-a-Grille Way, replacing or renovating two fire stations, expanding the city library and improvements to Hurley and Egan parks.

Comments
Here’s why there are so many coyotes and why they are spreading so fast

Here’s why there are so many coyotes and why they are spreading so fast

For eons, coyotes roamed what is now the western United States, with its wide-open plains. Then came European settlers, who cut down forests for farms and ranches in a steady east-west march. Along the way, they killed large predators such as pumas a...
Updated: 5 minutes ago
For starters: Rays vs. Red Sox, with Faria on the mound

For starters: Rays vs. Red Sox, with Faria on the mound

UPDATE, 3:27: Here is the Rays lineup, would just called up top prospect Willy Adames:Robertson 2bCron 1bDuffy dhRamos cAdames ssField rfArroyo 3bRefsnyder lfSmith cfFaria pDEVELOPING: The Rays are back home after a long, eventful and ultimately succ...
Updated: 7 minutes ago
Police swarm city street in Florida in apparent shootout

Police swarm city street in Florida in apparent shootout

PANAMA CITY BEACH — Multiple law enforcement agencies have surrounded a Panama City apartment building where an active shooter is barricaded inside.City spokeswoman Caitlyn Lawrence says it’s still an active situation. The suspect has been firing on ...
Updated: 14 minutes ago
Rays call up top prospect Willy Adames – for now

Rays call up top prospect Willy Adames – for now

The Rays have called up top prospect INF Willy Adames – though likely for a short stay.INF Joey Wendle was placed on the paternity list Tuesday, which can last three days.Adames is likely to head back to Triple-A Durham when Wendle returns.Adam...
Updated: 15 minutes ago
FedEx driver, 22, dies in crash on Interstate 4

FedEx driver, 22, dies in crash on Interstate 4

TAMPA — A 22-year-old FedEx driver died on Interstate 4 Tuesday when a tire blew out on his freight truck, which veered into the path of a Chevrolet Volt, state troopers said. Two teen girls in the Volt survived the 10:21 a.m. crash. A photo shows ci...
Updated: 20 minutes ago
Many Americans still cannot afford a $400 set back

Many Americans still cannot afford a $400 set back

Could you pay an unexpected $400 expense?More than four in 10 Americans said they couldn’t without borrowing money or selling something, according to the Federal Reserves Report on the Economic Well-Being of U.S. Households released Tuesday.That’s ac...
Updated: 23 minutes ago
Tampa-backed company with candy-like coffee thins inks deal with Dunkin’ Donuts

Tampa-backed company with candy-like coffee thins inks deal with Dunkin’ Donuts

TAMPA — Tampa-based private equity firm ProspEquity Partners paid $18.2 million less than three weeks ago for a two-thirds stake in Tierra Nueva, a Miami company with a new idea for coffee, and already it has some big news.Tierra Nueva has inked a de...
Updated: 23 minutes ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Lightning squanders chance to close out Capitals

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Lightning squanders chance to close out Capitals

The Lightning misses an opportunity to close out the Capitals in Washington, so there will be a Game 7 in Tampa on Wednesday night with a berth in the Stanley Cup final on the line.Andrei Vasilevskiy was fantastic, but the Lightning couldn't match th...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Investigators insist MH370 crash was an accident, not a mass murder-suicide by pilot

Investigators insist MH370 crash was an accident, not a mass murder-suicide by pilot

A despondent Capt. Zaharie Ahmad Shah, troubled over the end of his marriage or some other unbearable sadness, was the only person awake on the doomed plane full of unconscious people, one theory goes. The suicidal pilot disabled communications on Ma...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Did ex-girlfriend’s Facebook post leak suspension of FSU starter Josh Ball?

Did ex-girlfriend’s Facebook post leak suspension of FSU starter Josh Ball?

A Florida State student from Lithia wrote a Facebook post Monday afternoon alleging the suspension of Seminoles starting offensive tackle Josh Ball.Little else was known a day later, but the details in the since-deleted post are consistent ...
Updated: 1 hour ago