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Pinellas Park sees budget as a healthy sign

(ran West edition)

The property tax rate likely will stay the same; water and sewage rates might inch up. The Skyview pool is discussed.

Council members had few questions Thursday as they completed their study of next year's proposed budget.

The $49-million budget, not including building projects, is the sign of a "healthy, vibrant city," council member Ed Taylor said.

The property tax rate likely will remain the same _ about $5.08 for every $1,000 of assessed value _ though some homeowners could see increases if the taxable value of their property has risen.

The bad news for Pinellas Park residents and others who get their water and sewage service from the city is that each of those fees likely will increase by 4 percent.

While council members, particularly Pat Bailey, worried about the higher fees, other items caught their interest during Thursday's workshop.

The Skyview pool should be open longer, council member Rick Butler said, and his colleagues agreed.

The city just reopened the pool, at 9040 54th Way N, after spending more than $600,000 redesigning and renovating the complex. But Skyview is open only from June 1 through Sept. 1.

"If the weather stays as warm as it's been, we could even swim on Christmas Day," Bailey said.

Assistant City Manager Mike Gustafson said staff members are studying the possibility of keeping the pool open year-round or at least for a few more weeks. They're even pricing the cost of heating the pool.

"Is it really possible and what will it really cost?" Gustafson asked. "There's quite a few different things that we can look at."

Council member Chuck Williams reprimanded staff members for fudging budget figures. Williams pointed out that Pinellas Park is renting out offices in City Plaza, across the street from City Hall, but it appears from the budget that Pinellas Park is barely breaking even on the deal.

Finance official Chris Howell, who prepares the budget documents, said she deliberately shows the situation as break-even so she can present a balanced budget to the council.

"That's not giving us a true picture of what we're making," said Williams, who works as an auditor. The council, he said, needs a "truer" accounting of what's happening.

Council members praised a decision to appoint Randy Linthicum as head of the city's Management Information Systems department. Linthicum has been acting head of the department for about a year, overseeing a changeover in Pinellas Park's computer system and making sure the city is ready for the year 2000 changeover.

"You've earned it," Bailey told Linthicum.

But City Manager Jerry Mudd, who plans to appoint Linthicum to the post in October, was coy about the MIS manager's future salary. Mudd declined to say what he plans to offer Linthicum, although it could be as much as 15 percent higher than his current salary of $53,000 a year.

Council members were also thrilled to see that Linthicum had hired 16-year-old James H. Brown to work part-time for about $10,560 a year.

The teenager is designing Pinellas Park's Web site and has designed others for such groups as the Pinellas County Republican Party and the Florida Homeschooling Association.

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