City Manager Bruce Haddock is proposing a 2.1-percent increase in the property tax rate next year to pay for improvements to the fire department.
Haddock said the tax increase would generate about an extra $33,000 a year and help pay for a ladder truck and eventually replacement of the State Street fire department building. The total proposed budget is about $13.5-million.
Under the proposed tax rate, an average Oldsmar home assessed at $65,000 with a homestead exemption would pay city taxes of $194, up $4 from $190 this year.
A homeowner's total tax bill is affected by other factors, such as a change in the assessment, and taxes from other agencies, such as the School Board.
The budget proposal goes before the City Council on July 18, and several council members said Tuesday they would try to trim it.
Oldsmar has had the same property tax rate since 1988, and until this year, property values had slipped three years in a row. That meant the city received less revenue each year.
But a home-building boom this year increased the tax base by 6.5 percent. So Oldsmar will collect more money next year, whether the rate increases or not.
Haddock said other city revenues were up as well, giving the city a better budget outlook than last year. Finance director Marguerite Burns said those dollars will go into the general fund to help pay costs such as insurance and employee raises.
"It's not a great deal of money, but it's certainly better than the last three years when the values were down and we were scraping to come up with a balanced budget," Burns said.
The ladder truck was the focal point of budget meetings last year. City Council members eliminated that $430,000 piece of equipment when they pared down the budget. The fire department has requested a new ladder truck since giving an old, unusable one to a children's museum in 1990.
"For a city of our size, it's difficult to come up with three or four hundred thousand dollars to buy a piece of equipment like that," Haddock said. "We're looking at establishing some long-term ongoing financing."
Haddock said the ladder truck would be used mostly for fires in commercial and industrial buildings with several stories. Oldsmar currently relies on fire departments in Safety Harbor or Dunedin to bring a ladder truck to a multistory fire.
Haddock said the living quarters and kitchen are inadequate in the fire department building, which is nearly 15 years old. A new building would probably include an emergency operation center that would be the city's response center during natural disasters, Haddock said.
Council member Tom Pinta said the subject of raising taxes is touchy.
"I hope that there's some way we can avert raising taxes and still give the fire department what it needs," Pinta said. "Once you raise taxes, they stay there. If the public thinks it's just and wants it, I have no problem with that."
"We need to first of all look at the budget and see what can be trimmed," said Vice Mayor Rosemary Wiseman. "At some point or another there will have to be some sort of mechanism in place where we can budget money we need for the fire department. That does need to be addressed."
Mayor Jerry Beverland said creating a set-aside fund for the fire department is a good idea. But he also likes the idea of cutting the budget to find the extra money.
Figuring your taxes
The city has proposed raising the tax rate to 4.85 mills. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value. To figure what your city taxes would be, take the assessed value of your home and subtract the $25,000 homestead exemption, if you qualify. Divide that figure by 1,000 and multiply by 4.85.