Safety Harbor has plan to cover deficits

SAFETY HARBOR — It began with giving up new Christmas decorations next year.

Maybe the city could wait on buying a new recreation registration system.

And, along those lines, is there $200,000 in further "creative" budget cuts that the city manager could make?

Safety Harbor officials, after debating how to cover budget deficits projected in the upcoming fiscal year, tentatively came up with a plan Monday night that combines raising revenue, slashing spending and reaching into the reserves.

The compromise grew from a pitch by City Commissioner Nina Bandoni to slightly reduce city expenses while requiring property owners to pay a little more in taxes or fees, thus sharing the responsibility of balancing the budget.

Some of the reductions could come from anticipated savings, said City Manager Matt Spoor. But he warned officials that there could be tough decisions ahead.

"I'll find $250,000 in cuts," he later told a reporter. "I can tell you that not everyone will like the cuts — either the commission, or staff, or the general public."

Commissioners are weighing a variety of budget problems — including a shortfall in the city street light fund and the need for more funds for stormwater projects — and they have different preferences and priorities, making for sometimes muddled discussion.

Mayor Andy Steingold fears cuts will harm city services or employees' morale. Some commissioners are eager to minimize the city's dependency on reserve funds.

To resolve those problems, commissioners have juggled the possibilities of increasing the millage rate, increasing the stormwater rate and implementing a new street light fee.

At Monday's workshop, they gravitated toward millage rates lower than the advertised 3.8845. One option: not changing last year's rate of 3.3808.

A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property value. The owner of a home valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption would have paid $338.08 under this year's rate and would pay $388.45 under the advertised 2013 rate.

Without additional revenue from higher ad valorem taxes to cover the street light fund deficit, commissioners haltingly moved toward a street light fee. It could involve a flat assessment or a tiered rate for properties on public roads with street lights.

The City Commission will meet again Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. at City Hall, 750 Main St. The first public hearings for the 2012-2013 budget and millage are on the agenda, as well as the second, final hearing for the proposed stormwater rate of $7.25 for most households.

Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@tampabay.com. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

Safety Harbor has plan to cover deficits 08/29/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, August 29, 2012 6:13pm]

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