SEMINOLE — Some Pinellas cities are having really tough times financially, but the city manager says Seminole is bucking the trend.
"I want you to understand the city's financial condition, in my view, it's very good," Frank Edmunds said. "Our position is solid."
Edmunds was speaking to the four candidates running for the two open seats on the Seminole City Council in the March 10 election. Edmunds has held a candidates' briefing at the beginning of the past five or six campaign seasons. The briefing is a kind of "state of the city" snapshot that provides information for the candidates to use while campaigning.
"Sometimes information gets confusing," Edmunds said. It's better that the candidates get accurate information from the city staff than to believe rumors that sometimes run rampant in the community.
Much of this latest briefing, held earlier this month, focused on the city budget, an obvious, but serious topic considering the declining revenues resulting from Amendment 1, dropping property values and a tanking economy.
But Edmunds said the city has managed to stay healthy because it has been fiscally prudent throughout the years, usually ending in the black with many city departments having not spent all the money allocated to them. And, he said, the city cut its budget by about $1.5-million going into the current fiscal year.
But, Edmunds said, the "economic conditions we are experiencing today certainly aren't going away tomorrow."
The state, he said, is in crisis, trying to find funds to maintain the government. The Pinellas County School Board is looking at a deficit. The county is having its own financial troubles.
"That's all bad news," Edmunds said. But Seminole is in the black, he said, and "we have not yet had to go to our reserve funds to balance the budget."
Seminole has about $4-million in reserves and that should increase by Sept. 30, the end of this fiscal year. Most of that — $3.5-million — is dedicated to serve as emergency funds in case of a hurricane or other natural catastrophe.
Harry Kyne, Seminole's budget guru, reiterated Edmunds' statements. When looking at city budgets, he said, there are four indicators of fiscal health. One is whether important infrastructure projects are stopped. The second is the amount of reserves, or savings, and whether the city is using those to balance the budget. The third is the amount of debt the city is carrying. And the fourth is the tax rate.
"When you look at the financial condition of Seminole, we have not reduced our capital expenditures," Kyne said. "We have not dipped into our fund balance (savings). We are not borrowing our way out of the current condition and we have not increased taxes. We have actually lowered taxes. So those four pieces really show the full financial condition of the city.
"Other cities can show you any one of those or any three of those that look good, but if you're borrowing from your fund balance, and the rest of them don't look so good, you may not be as good as you think. We're strong in all four indicators."
Edmunds said the goal is to keep it that way.
Seminole has about 18,700 residents in its 4.5 square miles and an operating budget of about $16.6-million. The city also contracts with Pinellas County to provide fire service to a large chunk of the unincorporated area surrounding the city. That makes the Seminole Fire Department responsible for covering 20 to 22 square miles and about 80,000 people, including those in the city.
Seminole has a council-manager form of government. The two council seats up for grabs in the March 10 election are nonpartisan. Candidates are incumbent Tom Barnhorn and challengers Leslie Waters, Patricia Plantamura and James Quinn. Council members serve three-year terms. They earn $5,562 a year and are responsible for setting policy, establishing a budget and hiring the city manager, city clerk and city attorney.