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Leftover cash to pay for landscape projects

Tampa Palms beautification will be paid for with taxing authority reserves, so residents won't have to pay higher assessments.

The Tampa Palms taxing authority won't raise assessments next year, but will still try to beef up beautification efforts in the sprawling master-planned community.

The Tampa Palms Community Development District board unanimously okayed a millage rate of 2.6 mills. It could have gone up to 3.3 mills. One mill equals a dollar tax for each $1,000 in assessed value of property.

The approved millage means owners of a $200,000 home, with the $25,000 homestead exemption, would pay about $455 in assessments to the CDD, which funds landscaping, lighting and maintenance in the neighborhood's common areas.

The CDD approved the millage rate Thursday night during discussions of the authority's fiscal year 2000-2001 budget, which takes effect Oct. 1. In addition to establishing the taxing rate, the board also approved an operating budget of $1.65-million, which is $155,568 more than last year's approved budget.

The taxing authority receives most of its revenue, about $1-million, from tax assessments on 2,000 Tampa Palms homeowners.

The CDD will hold a second public hearing and take a final vote on the budget at 6 p.m. Sept. 26 at Compton Park.

Before Thursday's votes, some supervisors appeared poised to increase assessments to improve the appearance of Tampa Palms, which some suggested has suffered because of this year's drought and because of aging facilities. Instead, they agreed to use leftover capital reserves to pay for needed landscaping projects.

Supervisor Mark Hensleigh, who argued for using the reserve money, said he wants to return the community to its former glory and maintain property values.

"This should be the premiere community in Florida," he said.

CDD manager John Daugirda called the budget realistic, not padded, but one that has some appearance-improving projects such as expanded plantings in each village that will add "color, spark, pizzazz."

The bulk of the budget _ $580,000 _ will go toward salaries and wages. It also includes $30,000 for palm tree pruning, $89,250 for mulch, $12,000 for village landscaping and $8,000 for new flower beds.

Hensleigh said the projects would take Tampa Palms from a C-rated community to a B. "My goal is to be an A-plus community," he said.

Missing from the approved budget was money for an ongoing open meetings lawsuit filed against the CDD last year by former supervisor and Tampa Palms resident Bob Doran.

Supervisors have said they are worried they may have to pay more than $100,000 in legal fees if they lose the case.

But Thursday, they decided against setting aside any funds because they said it is unclear when a judge will rule and determine attorneys' fees.

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