Tough choices ahead for Dunedin, outgoing Mayor Hackworth says

DUNEDIN — The outgoing mayor says the newly elected City Commission will soon have a tough choice: lower the level of city services or raise taxes.

The property tax rate will need to go up, he said, or services will suffer.

Mayor Bob Hackworth said Wednesday he doesn't see raising the tax rate as a tax increase because declining property values will lower assessments for many property owners. So they might not see an increase in the amount of taxes they pay, he said.

Many of those who won in the Dunedin election ran on platforms of fiscal conservatism, he said, so they are not likely to address the city's loss of property tax revenue from declining home values with a property tax rate increase.

The current Dunedin millage rate is 3.5597. For an average single-family home with a value of $234,230, that's $656 yearly.

"They can preserve the current revenues by adjusting the tax rate," Hackworth said. "But I suspect that this new group is less likely to go there."

That impression is mostly based on their campaigns, he said, and who knows what they will do when faced with something more tangible like reducing library services.

"That's all part of the process that this new group will go through," Hackworth said. "It's what I've been doing for seven years."

Hackworth's last full commission meeting as mayor will be March 26. The new commission will be sworn in at its April 2 meeting.

One regret Hackworth has is that both City Commissioners Dave Eggers, the mayor elect, and Deborah Kynes, who lost her bid for mayor in a close race, can't continue serving on the commission.

"I wish they both could have stayed, but that's politics," he said.

He said Kynes has been a good public servant in her 10 years on the commission.

"She has her footprints on a lot of good projects, and Dave does, too, and so do I," he said.

Another door will open for her, Kynes said Wednesday, and when it does, "I'll give my heart and soul."

She said the city will have to find new and innovative ways to grapple with the challenges of the economy.

"My best hope is that we don't stand still," she said.

Eggers said he is thrilled with the voter turnout and humbled by the support, but at the same time, exhilarated and ready to get to work.

"It's just really surreal sometimes, when you think about what people have entrusted you with," he said Wednesday. "A lot of emotions."

Eggers received 51.13 percent of the vote to beat Kynes, who finished with 48.87 percent. The election had a turnout of 6,990 voters.

"You know what I was most excited about?" he asked on election night. "That we had 6,900-plus who voted in this election."

The number of votes cast was higher than any total in at least 12 years (the records readily available go back to 1997), according to city officials.

Eggers said the city will have three choices for balancing the budget next year: raise the property tax rate, use reserves or cut costs. Raising the property tax rate will be his choice of last resort.

"When I go around knocking on doors, everybody is hurting," he said. "The last thing you want to do is raise taxes."

Theresa Blackwell can be reached at tblackwell@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4170.

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Mayor-elect Dave Eggers said he would like to hear from the public about budget priorities. The City Commission is holding a workshop on next year's budget at 9 a.m. today in City Hall, 542 Main St. For more information, call (727) 298-3001.

Tough choices ahead for Dunedin, outgoing Mayor Hackworth says 03/11/09 [Last modified: Thursday, March 12, 2009 9:06am]

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