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City proposes no tax increase

Remember that tax increase city officials were talking about in April?

You can forget it now.

Under a proposed 1995-96 budget published Friday by City Manager Betty Deptula, property taxes in Clearwater next year would stay the same for the fifth consecutive year.

A variety of factors enabled city officials to erase what was projected in April as a $2.3-million shortfall and avoid a property tax increase that could have been as high as 11 percent.

What happened to change the outlook so dramatically?

"It wasn't any one thing," said Budget Director Tina Wilson, who just weeks ago seemed resigned that the city's string of no-increase years had ended.

"Initially, I didn't think we could do it this year," she said. "I really thought this would be the first year for a tax increase in a while."

One reason for the good news is that, for the first time since 1991, the total value of all property in the city is projected to go up instead of down.

The value of existing structures is projected to increase by $52-million next year, and new construction is expected to add $34-million worth of property to the tax rolls.

The result will be nearly $300,000 in new property tax revenue that city officials had not counted on in April.

In addition, Deptula managed to engineer more than $800,000 in budget cuts. That is not a huge amount for an operating budget that totals nearly $66-million, but it helped stave off a tax increase.

Wilson said the cuts were not severe and that services to Clearwater residents would not suffer.

Deptula, producing only her second budget as city manager, "just took a real hard look at what the departments were doing this year and where we were spending our money and how we were spending our money," Wilson said.

She added that in April, officials had not yet factored in the annual savings the city realizes when positions go unfilled and when senior employees leave and are replaced by people with entry-level salaries.

That savings is estimated at up to $500,000.

Add to that an extra $200,000 in utility taxes the city will receive when the Pinellas County water system raises its rates in the coming year, and an additional $115,000 from occupational licenses.

Deptula's budget includes decreases in spending for her office and the mayor and commissioners. Increases are projected for the police, fire and parks and recreation departments.

FIGURE YOUR TAXES

Clearwater is proposing a 1995-96 tax rate of 5.1158 mills, which is the same rate the city has had for the past four years. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value. To determine your city taxes, take the assessed value of your house and subtract the $25,000 homestead exemption, if you qualify. Then divide that number by 1,000 and multiply by 5.1158.

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