Wednesday, November 22, 2017
News Roundup

Property tax increase proposed by Dunedin manager

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DUNEDIN — Residents would see their first property tax rate increase in a decade under City Manager Rob DiSpirito's preliminary 2014 budget proposal.

In an eight-page memo to city commissioners, DiSpirito explained that the measure is among several aimed at offsetting an anticipated $1.3 million revenue shortfall in the general fund next year.

Raising the city property tax rate by 12 percent to $3.73 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value, DiSpirito said, would generate $595,000 a year for city coffers and provide "a sustainable income stream for core city services" beyond 2014.

The proposed increase would mean a resident who had a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would see a tax bill of $373 next year, which is $35 more than this year.

DiSpirito described the hike as "fairly modest" for Pinellas County, where the average property tax rate is $4.40 per $1,000 of taxable assessed value. Dunedin, he noted, actually reduced its tax rate in 2011.

The alternative, he said, would be for commissioners to identify up to a half-million dollars in cuts to public services or to pull a "one-time" chunk from reserves, which would drag the city below its reserve minimum set by policy.

"My staff and I do not recommend either of these approaches," DiSpirito wrote. "The first option reduces value to the public and ratchets down potential future rates. The second option is not sustainable, and will result in even larger fiscal problems" in fiscal year 2015.

City commissioners will begin weighing in on the recommendations Monday, during the first in a series of workshops and public hearings ahead of the Oct. 1 start of the next budget year.

According to DiSpirito, the projected $1.3 million shortfall is the result of several factors, including slower than expected rises in property values, declining sales tax revenues, and electric utility franchise tax losses. He said the city also had to counterbalance $683,428 in increased operating expenses, mostly for fuel, chemicals, phones and insurance.

"Staff continues to look for ways to do more with less," DiSpirito wrote.

He worked city commissioners' suggestions into the budget, such as adding a parks worker and matching firefighters' union contract by giving nonunion city employees raises up to 2 percent.

DiSpirito also is asking commissioners to reinstate the assistant city manager position to help lessen his workload and to make Dunedin TV/Communications its own department as a means of improving communication with residents and media.

Because of attrition, job redesigns and other factors, he said, the new positions wouldn't add any costs for the city.

"In the interest of employee safety and effective service delivery," DiSpirito also wants to lift the freeze on vehicle replacements.

Under the proposed budget, the city would use loans to build a new city government annex, fund renovations to the technical services building and partially fund the replacement of Fire Station 61.

DiSpirito has suggested using cash to fund construction of an environmental classroom at the Blatchley House and expansions at the Dunedin Historical Museum and Dunedin Fine Art Center.

He recommends maintaining the same level of annual financial aid to the museum, art center and Neighborly Care Network, which offers adult day care and Meals on Wheels to local residents.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at (727) 445-4153 or [email protected] To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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