Monday, May 28, 2018
Politics

St. Pete Beach weighs tax rate; did commissioner overstep?

ST. PETE BEACH — Property tax bills are slated to drop in 2014, but by precisely how much could become a contentious issue.

Mayor Steve McFarlin wrote a blistering email Monday criticizing Commissioner Jim Parent for what the mayor said was an inappropriate push for higher property taxes.

The incident occurred at last week's meeting of the Finance and Budget Review Committee, which is responsible for reviewing the city manager's proposed budget and either approving it or recommending changes to the full commission.

"It appears that due to the intrusion into your (the committee's) deliberations by Commissioner Parent, the integrity of this process has been severely compromised this year," McFarlin wrote in an email copied to the entire commission, the city clerk and the city manager.

Parent defended himself in a subsequent email. He could not be reached for comment.

"I believe I made (the comments) as a private citizen," Parent wrote. "I don't believe that we, as elected officials, give up our right to care about our City from the perspective of a resident and as a taxpayer."

When Parent spoke at the committee meeting he suggested they consider raising instead of lowering property taxes to cover the $10,000 they wanted added to the parks facilities maintenance budget.

"I would also encourage you to fund an operational reserve for unexpected expenses and opportunistic things," Parent told the committee. "It would be nice in my mind to have $50,000 to 100,000 pocket money."

After about half an hour of debate, the committee vote unanimously to recommend a property tax rate of 3.0 mills, slightly higher than that proposed by city manager Mike Bonfield. The current millage rate is 3.2819 mills.

One mill is equivalent to $1 of tax for each $ 1,000 of assessed, nonexempt real property.

The city manager originally proposed a tax rate of 2.8569 mills. According to Bonfield, that would save property owners $51.28 for every $100,000 of assessed taxable value after all exemptions.

It would also mean a nearly $600,000 drop in revenue for the city.

If the commission accepts the Finance and Budget Review Committee recommendation, tax bills would still drop next year, but not by as much.

The 3.0 mill tax rate would also generate an additional $285,000 over Bonfield's recommended $23.5 million budget.

That money would be put into the commission's budget to be spent on emergency maintenance or repair items, as well as for other unanticipated programs or activities.

One key point during the debate was whether residents are expecting a significant drop in their property tax bills because of the savings created when the city closed the police department and contracted with the Sheriff's Office for law enforcement.

"If you think the public has the expectation that going to the Sheriff would lower millage, you should lower the millage," Bonfield told the committee.

Parent then suggested that the committee could reduce the millage by any amount that would be less than the current millage rate.

"You could still meet several goals and have a lessened tax bill," Parent told the committee.

Following McFarlin's complaint, City Attorney Mike Davis reviewed city policies as they applied to Parent's actions at the committee meeting and eventually discovered a commission resolution approved in 2005 setting conduct rules for commission interaction with citizen committees and boards.

Those guidelines caution commissioners about "influencing" citizen boards or committees or "prejudicing" eventual city commission consideration of those groups' recommendations.

Specifically, commissioners are allowed to attend citizen committee meetings, but the guidelines say they should "be sensitive to the way in which their presence may be viewed as unfairly affecting the process."

Commissioners also are required to preface their opinions with the caveat that they are not representing the commission as a whole.

Comments
Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

Former President George H.W. Bush hospitalized in Maine

BIDDEFORD, Maine — Former President George H.W. Bush was hospitalized Sunday in Maine after he experienced low blood pressure and fatigue, a spokesman said. Just after 2 p.m., Jim McGrath, a spokesman for the 93-year-old Bush, said he was awak...
Published: 05/27/18
More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

More LGBT issues loom as justices near wedding cake decision

WASHINGTON — A flood of lawsuits over LGBT rights is making its way through courts and will continue, no matter the outcome in the Supreme Court’s highly anticipated decision in the case of a Colorado baker who would not create a wedding cake for a s...
Published: 05/26/18
Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

Carlton: Sometimes taxpayers pay for not doing the right thing

I may have cracked the code. Found a way to sell doing the right thing. Discovered a method of persuasion in certain matters of fairness, conscience and the greater good.Like giving our fellow Americans a second chance.When morality-based arguments d...
Published: 05/26/18
North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

North Korea demolishes nuclear test site as journalists watch

PUNGGYE-RI, North Korea — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un made good on his promise to demolish his country’s nuclear test site, which was formally closed in a series of huge explosions Thursday as a group of foreign journalists looked on. The explosi...
Published: 05/24/18
Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

Trump violated the Constitution when he blocked his critics on Twitter, a federal judge rules

President Donald Trump’s decision to block his Twitter followers for their political views is a violation of the First Amendment, a federal judge ruled Wednesday, saying that Trump’s effort to silence his critics is not permissible under the U.S. Con...
Published: 05/23/18
All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

All those city services that fuel Lightning fever? Team, not taxpayers, foot the bill

TAMPA — All those public watch parties during the Tampa Bay Lightning’s postseason run? And how about the rally at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square Park with the big white Lightning logo spray-painted on the grass? You need police to prote...
Published: 05/23/18
Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Romano: A pathetic legacy for Florida’s all-or-nothing Democrats

Explain this to me: In the world of partisan politics, how is being an independent thinker a bad thing? When it comes to general elections, we seem to like rogues and mavericks. We want outsiders and swamp scrubbers. Folks appreciate a good finger-...
Published: 05/22/18
‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

‘World’s most expensive Witch Hunt’: Trump lashes out at New York Times, Democrats

WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump lashed out Sunday at "the World’s most expensive Witch Hunt," trashing a new report in the New York Times that said an emissary representing the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered help...
Published: 05/20/18
Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Obama’s education secretary: Let’s boycott school until gun laws change

Former Education Secretary Arne Duncan pushed a radical idea on Twitter: Parents should pull their children out of school until elected officials pass stricter gun control laws.His tweet came hours after a shooting rampage at a Houston-area high scho...
Published: 05/20/18
China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

China offers to buy more US products to reduce trade imbalance

WASHINGTON - China offered to boost its annual purchases of U.S. products by "at least $200 billion" Friday as two days of talks aimed at averting an open breach between the two countries ended in Washington, a top White House adviser said.Larry Kudl...
Published: 05/19/18