SEMINOLE — Two incumbents have joined forces in their quest for re-election to the City Council, but it seems they haven't gotten at least one of their basic facts correct.
John Counts and Bob Matthews sent out a mailer touting the fiscal health of Seminole with a plea to re-elect them. The implication is that the continued financial health of the city depends on their staying in office.
The two are facing challenges from Chris Burke and Tom Christy, both of whom made their first run for the council last year. The two top vote-getters in the March 8 election will take office.
Counts has served on the council since 2004, and Matthews has served since 1990 with the exception of eight months in 2006 after he lost an election. The council appointed him later that year to fill an opening after Dottie Reeder left the council to run for the state House.
Despite their experience, the two stumbled in their joint flier when touting that Seminole's "property tax millage rate" has dropped nine of the past 13 years. But the city's own website, myseminole.com, has a chart showing that the property tax rate has declined only six years during that time. The Pinellas County property appraiser's website, pcpao.org, shows more detail about the city's property tax rate.
The rate declined from 1999 to 2001. Then, it remained static at $2.93 per thousand dollars of assessed, taxable property value. It dropped again in 2006 and 2007. Since then, it has remained at about $2.48 per thousand dollars of assessed, taxable property value. That means that the owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption would pay $248 in city taxes under the current rate.
Counts agreed the flier misstates the number of times Seminole's tax rate has declined during the past 13 years "if someone wants to nitpick."
"It's really their actual taxes have been reduced," Counts said. "Residents have actually paid less in taxes nine of the last 13 years."
Counts conceded that, with the tax rate remaining the same, at least part of the decrease in taxes comes from lower property values in a tanking economy.
The two also had a bit of trouble with spelling on the flier, saying, "Seminole will be dept free in 2019 and our current debt is being payed by Penny for Pinellas money."
The joint campaign material may be a first for Seminole.
"I don't know (if) anyone has ever done it before," Counts said.
Matthews said, "I've had people say it was a bold decision, (but) I would rather partner with someone who's doing a good job on council."
The flier does not mean the two are running on the same platform, Matthews said.
"We don't agree on everything," Counts said. "We decided, let's join forces for this particular element."
Counts said he and Matthews consulted city attorney John Elias to make sure they didn't run afoul of the state Sunshine Law, which bans two or more elected officials from the same board from meeting in secret to discuss public business. Counts said the two managed to avoid a violation because they only discussed past business and not issues that would come before the council in the future.
Seminole has about 18,500 residents. It has a council-manager form of government and an operating budget of about $15.2 million.
The City Council is composed of the mayor and six council members, who are responsible for setting the budget and adopting policy. The council meets on the second and fourth Tuesdays and holds workshops when necessary. Council members earn $5,652 a year.
They serve three-year terms, but last March voters approved moving city elections to coincide with the November general elections. That makes the March 8 election the last to be held in the spring, and the winners will serve three years and eight months until the November 2014 election.
Anne Lindberg can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8450.