ZEPHYRHILLS — City officials are holding the line on the property tax rate for next year with a proposed budget that includes about a half-million dollars in spending cuts.
The City Council tentatively set the tax rate Monday night at 5.57 mills, or $5.57 of tax per $1,000 of taxable property, the same rate as this past year. In a memo to council members, City Manager Steve Spina wrote that rate will generate a little more than $3.48 million.
That's about $500,000 less than the same tax rate generated this past year, because property values have declined.
The proposed budget includes various spending cuts, including the elimination of vacant code inspector and museum curator positions, the reduction of overtime pay budgeted for the Police Department, and the elimination of four truck purchases for the parks and water and sewer departments.
Mayor Cliff McDuffie urged the council to adopt a higher tax rate now, because they could always lower it later. He said the council was being too cautious in keeping the rate the same.
"Nobody likes to raise taxes, nobody likes to talk about taxes, but we're obligated to do what's right for the community," McDuffie said.
Council president Jodi Wilkeson said she would rather raise fees than taxes, but she did not give specifics. She said the expectations of residents was for the tax rate to stay the same.
Council members Lance Smith and Kenneth Compton agreed with Wilkeson.
Council member Luis Lopez said he would rather see a slight increase to a 5.7 millage rate, or $5.70 of tax for every $1,000 in taxable property. For a home valued at $136,000, that would mean an $11 increase in property taxes for the year.
Lopez argued that higher fees could end up costing taxpayers more in the long run. Council member Manny Funes agreed.
The council will have a couple of budget hearings before voting on the final tax rate. The budget year begins Oct. 1.
In other news, the council ranked Collman & Karsky as the top architectural firm to work on the flood-damaged fire station downtown.
Collman's plans include replacing the north side doors with a wall to keep water from seeping in, and other upgrades so the building will be able to survive a Category 3 hurricane. The team plans to complete the project by May 2010.
The council also approved a license for Gerald Rubino to sell hot dogs, soft drinks, and chips at the Times Square Park downtown. Rubino plans to sell the refreshments from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. every weekday. Rubino said he is starting the venture after retiring from car sales.
Lopez said the cart might bring more people to the park.
"I have noticed it attracts people to a location if it's done professionally," Lopez said. "I think it's a good idea."