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Tarpon Springs manager wants to hold line on tax rate

TARPON SPRINGS — Tarpon Springs' property tax rate may be among the highest in Pinellas County, but that's unlikely to change this year, even as rising property values result in more tax dollars for city coffers.

For the fourth consecutive year, City Manager Mark LeCouris has proposed a property tax rate of 5.45. That is more than the proposed rates for Dunedin, Safety Harbor, Clearwater and Largo. Only Pinellas Park and St. Petersburg have a higher proposed millage rate.

That means a Tarpon Springs property owner with a home assessed at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption is likely to pay $545 in 2014.

By comparison, the same property owner is likely to pay $373 in Dunedin or Safety Harbor, $515 in Clearwater or $522 in Largo.

In part, Tarpon Springs, Clearwater and Largo have higher rates because they chose to keep their own police departments rather than contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff's Office, as Dunedin and Safety Harbor do.

"Our residents have consistently stated that they do not want services cut, which is why we have had so few people complain about our millage rate being too high," LeCouris said through an email from city spokeswoman Judy Staley. "This has been a non-issue in the past four budgets."

LeCouris, who declined to directly discuss the budget with a Tampa Bay Times reporter, also said through Staley that other cities can afford lower taxes because they have more commercial and industrial property to boost revenues.

The $63.7 million budget includes salary increases for city workers, new computers and sidewalk improvements, among other things.

The city expects a $74,941 boost in revenues as a result of rising property values but still would need to take almost $400,000 from reserves to balance the budget.

Finance director Arie Walker said during a recent meeting that departments have not increased expenses since the year 2000 except to cover things like utilities and insurance.

"So we really have been cutting all along if you think of the inflation during that time frame," Walker said.

Commissioner David Banther, who warned during his election campaign that Tarpon Springs was draining its reserve fund at an alarming rate, said he believes the city is "heading in the right direction."

"I'm hoping this time next year it's a conversation where we aren't using any of the reserves," he said.

For the first time in four years, the commission also recently approved a 4 percent across-the-board pay raise for city employees, at a cost of about $200,000.

Although it's not automatic, the commission also agreed that LeCouris and City Clerk Irene Jacobs should get the 4 percent salary increases.

LeCouris' salary will jump from $109,884, plus health insurance and other benefits, to $114,801.

The public can weigh in on the budget and tax rate at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday and on Sept. 23 at City Hall. The final budget will be adopted Sept. 23 and the new fiscal year starts Oct. 1.

Brittany Alana Davis can be reached at bdavis@tampabay.com or 727-445-4155. To write a letter to the editor, visit tampabay.com/letters.

Tarpon Springs manager wants to hold line on tax rate 09/10/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 6:14pm]
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