Monday, December 11, 2017
News Roundup

Stormwater rate increase proposed in Dunedin to pay for projects

DUNEDIN — Continued water quality monitoring at several Dunedin creeks. An outfall that would relieve flooding along President Street. A study to determine dredging needs for several bodies of water that flow into St. Joseph Sound.

The projects are among roughly a dozen that officials say a proposed 50-cent increase in monthly stormwater rates would help fund next year.

The hike — which would amount to a total increase of $6 on ratepayers' bills over the entire year — would generate $156,650 for Dunedin's stormwater fund, finance director Jeff Yates told the City Commission during a budget planning workshop Monday.

In 2012, Yates said, Dunedin used built-up reserves to fund a significant portion of projects.

Staff used a recent improvement in the city's credit score to refinance some loans, which allowed the city to generate enough debt savings to propose the 50-cent increase instead of the $1 officials had initially projected for next year.

The rate jump, Yates said, would help the city rebuild its stormwater reserves and recoup losses from a $200,000 reduction in Penny for Pinellas revenue.

Meanwhile, Yates said, the city will work to finish correcting years-old utility billing errors and look for grant opportunities in hopes of warding off the next projected rate increase of between 70 cents and $1.50 in 2016.

In other news:

• Commissioners threw tentative support behind City Manager Rob DiSpirito's proposal to help keep the struggling Dunedin Historical Museum afloat.

DiSpirito has recommended pulling $75,000 from Dunedin's reserves for a one-time cash contribution to the museum, on top of the nearly $59,000 it typically receives. The city would designate $25,000 of the extra money for a consultant to help the museum map out a plan for long-term sustainability.

The museum — facing a $74,325 loss next year despite aggressive fundraising — is integral in celebrating Dunedin's heritage, educating youth and drawing tourists to downtown, DiSpirito said.

"The concern was that in the next several years they were going to have to be closing their doors like Safety Harbor (Museum)," whose operations were recently absorbed by the city, DiSpirito said. He said a similar scenario in Dunedin might hurt the museum's chances at government grants.

The budget calls for $374,900 to go to various city-based programs and outside organizations, including the Dunedin Fine Art Center and the Clearwater Homeless Emergency Project.

• Dunedin this summer partnered with Clearwater on an employee medical center, where workers aren't charged a co-pay for services. Under the proposed 2013 budget, employees who decide to visit doctors of their choosing under the city's Humana plan would see their co-pays increase from $15 to $20 for primary care visits and to $35 for specialists. But they would get a $100 credit if they complete a health risk assessment through the city-run medical center.

• Staff was able to shift funds around and find $37,000 for an additional parks service worker. The change was requested by city leaders concerned that the department had added parkland but no staff in four years. Most cities operate at 11 acres per full-time equivalent employee, and Dunedin was operating at 16. Commissioners directed staff to keep looking for ways to restore funding for library materials and the city facade program.

Keyonna Summers can be reached at [email protected], (727) 445-4153 or on Twitter @KeyonnaSummers. To write a letter to the editor, go to tampabay.com/letters.

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