Friday, December 15, 2017
News Roundup

St. Pete Beach seeks cut in next year's budget

ST. PETE BEACH — Even after a proposed 19.7 percent increase in property taxes, the city's 2014-15 budget is more than a half-million dollars in the red.

The commission plans to meet at 9 a.m. Monday to figure out how to cut $553,900 in spending.

This meeting follows more than 12 hours of debate during recent weeks.

"There will be some tough decisions," Interim City Manager Elaine Edmunds told the commission last week.

Edmunds' original $15.6 million general fund budget called for a property tax rate of $3 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. That would have resulted in about $600,000 in additional revenue, mostly from a 6.7 percent increase in property values.

However, commissioners decided in July to give themselves a greater cushion in prioritizing spending projects.

The tentative rate of $3.20 would raise another $420,000 in property taxes and cost the average property owner $34.41 cents more per each $100,000 in property value when compared to existing rates, according to Edmunds.

This year, the city rate is about $2.86 per $1,000.

"The commission's decision last year to lower the (property tax) rate was a very poor decision," Mayor Maria Lowe said after pushing for an increase. "We are still catching up with all of the lean years. We have basic needs that were not attended to because of the economic downturn."

During several subsequent budget workshops, the commission added nearly $1 million worth of projects to the 2014-15 budget, including: a $150,000 increase in legal fees; $220,000 to hire three additional firefighters/paramedics; $229,000 to study and implement handicapped accessibility in public parking areas along Pass-a-Grille Way; $141,303 to study historic structures in Pass-a-Grille; a $200,000 expansion of a road/stormwater/sewer project along Blind Pass Road; and $50,000 to scan and electronically store city records.

"We have a lot of issues. Our infrastructure is in very poor condition," said Commissioner Melinda Pletcher.

The commission also wants to add another $2 million to an already planned $10 million bond issue needed to pay for stormwater and road improvement projects. The additional money would cover the cost of burying utilities underground along Pass-a-Grille Way.

Planning for burying utilities underground along Gulf Boulevard, a project that will be paid for mostly by Pinellas County, was also authorized to begin in the coming year.

All of this proposed spending is in addition to $14.3 million in capital projects already in Edmunds' budget.

Those projects include $6.3 million to reconstruct Pass-a-Grille Way; another $600,000 for other street repairs; $1.3 million for reconstruction of the southern portion of Blind Pass Road; $3 million to renovate the now-vacant police building for use as a city hall; and $230,000 for expanding the library.

The proposed budget also calls for a 2.5 percent merit pay increase for employees, $70,000 to replace aging telephone and video equipment, and a 2.54 percent increase in law enforcement costs.

The final budget and tax rate will be approved by the commission in September.

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