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Safety Harbor averts layoffs, big impact on residents

SAFETY HARBOR — The City Commission has prepared its proposed $55-million budget for next year, and while there are a few casualties, officials hope none will significantly impact residents.

Overall, Safety Harbor finds itself in better position to weather the economic downtown than some of its larger neighbors. Officials foresee no layoffs and aim to maintain current city services.

Still, the annual teacher's appreciation breakfast has been eliminated and money for the board appreciation dinner, the Easter extravaganza, the city's annual calendar, the public art committee and employee training has been reduced.

There will be no out-of-state travel for employees other than department heads, and they are restricted to one trip next year. There will be decreased merit and cost-of-living increases for all employees. That includes fire union workers, agreed to by the union.

Capital improvement projects will be sliced, including funding for brick street restoration.

"Pretty much every department took operating cuts,'' city spokesman Brad Purdy said.

The city will even cut back on paper products, he said, to "make cuts the resident won't feel.''

But because Safety Harbor is in better shape financially than some other North Pinellas cities — it has a reserve of about $7--million in the general fund — a part-time IT specialist will be hired to work at the library.

"We may go to a hiring freeze, but no one's being cut,'' Mayor Andy Steingold said. "There may be positions not filled" after an employee departs.

The city, which currently has only two part-time jobs open, is waiting 90 days before filling any position.

The commission dipped into the reserves, taking about $570,000 to make sure Safety Harbor remains strong during this economic rainy day.

As proposed, the city's property tax rate would edge up from 2.5 mills to a maximum of 2.7 mills, "but more likely than not it will be 2.6,'' Steingold said.

A mill equals $1 in taxes for every $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property value. At 2.7 mills, the owner of a home with an assessed, taxable value of $200,000 would pay $540 in city taxes. That hypothetical bill does not include taxes collected by Pinellas County, the School Board or other taxing authorities.

Still, even that higher rate would be expected to bring in less than this year's $3-million, due to declining property values. Commissioners will have a final vote on the budget in September.

Although the city is facing tough times, it did award three non-city agencies funds they need.

The Safety Harbor Museum of Regional History received $40,000; the Neighborly Care Network gets $15,000 and the Family Center gets $25,000.

But the center did not get $4,000 for a new copier that it requested.

"It was wishful thinking,'' said Dick Perrier, the Family Center's director.

Eileen Schulte can be reached at schulte@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4153.

Safety Harbor averts layoffs, big impact on residents 07/23/08 [Last modified: Friday, July 25, 2008 3:16pm]

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