TARPON SPRINGS — Years of frugality are paying off as the city heads into a new fiscal year, according to officials.
City commissioners will get their first crack at the 2009 budget at a workshop tonight.
Despite a projected 1.4 percent decrease in property tax revenue and rising fixed costs (such as fuel and insurance), city officials said they don't plan to cut services or lay off staffers just yet.
Instead, city commissioners will be asked to eliminate 15 vacant positions — one or two jobs each from various departments — and cut about $200,000 in proposed capital improvement projects.
Though the revenue will be going down slightly, the tax rate will be up. Two weeks ago, commissioners voted to set the rate at $4.57 per $1,000 of assessed property value, up from this year's rate of $4.31.
But declining assessments (down 6.8 percent in the city this year) and increased exemptions created by the passage of Amendment 1 means owners of homesteaded properties should end up paying lower taxes than this year.
For example, in 2007 the owner of a home with an assessed value of $250,000 — the average home value in Tarpon Springs — and a $25,000 homestead exemption paid $969.50 in city taxes.
In November, that same homeowner would pay an estimated $914.76, based on the new rate and a $50,000 homestead exemption.
Those amounts do not include taxes levied by the School Board, County Commission and other taxing authorities.
Property tax money is applied to the general fund, which the staff has cut by 7.7 percent for next year, from about $22.1-million to $20.4-million. Seventy-two percent of the fund goes to salaries, said city finance director Arie Walker.
City staff members started tightening their belts almost a decade ago, Walker said. Since then, operational expenses have dropped 32 percent, she said.
But the city is running out of ways to shave costs and retain services — and the employees who provide them, Walker said.
"If we have to do major cuts next year, I don't see how we can do it without cutting services," she said. "We're at a minimum level of staff to maintain services."
Rita Farlow can be reached at (727) 445-4162 or firstname.lastname@example.org.