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$100,000 in goodies promised

The Tampa Palms taxing board is moving forward with about $100,000 worth of improvements, from stocking ponds with fish to hanging flower baskets at the front entrances.

Members of the Community Development District agreed Wednesday to spend the money in the next several months as part of budget talks for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1.

The board also voted to boost the taxing rate from 2.6 mills to a maximum of 3.3 mills, but no decision was made on whether to raise taxes. If approved, the new rate would increase district taxes on a $200,000 house in Tampa Palms from $520 to $660 a year.

The five supervisors appear split on the issue. Chairman Mark Fitzpatrick said he thought the district can make necessary improvements without raising taxes. Supervisor Mark Hensleigh said the district needs to invest more in the community. The others are considering it.

"Everyone said last year that we want to be the best community in Florida," Hensleigh said. "Did anyone naively think we would be the best community without raising taxes?"

Tampa Palms has not changed the millage rate for several years. Legally, it can be raised to 5 mills, but supervisors opted to set a limit while they debate the budget.

Hensleigh, who lives in the Reserve, says the district should start dipping into its reserve and spend tax money as it is collected. Why should people be complaining about dead plants and skinny trees when the district has money? he asked.

"Taxpayers shouldn't pay taxes for something they get down the road," he said. "Taxes should be a pay-as-you-go thing."

Fitzpatrick has taken a more conservative approach. He wants the district to prioritize its spending, then live with the plan. He compared it to a family that wants to travel to Europe and buy a Mercedes. You just can't do both.

"We're spending more and more every year and we're going to be to the point where we won't have any more," he said. "Yes, we can raise taxes, but I don't want to be on the board when we do. I don't think it's right. We have to draw the line."

Supervisor Andy Miller said he wants to get the "most bang for the buck," but also wants money for the future.

The board will have additional public hearings on the 2001-02 budget Aug. 8, Sept. 5 and Sept. 18. All meetings start at 6 p.m. at the Compton Park recreation center.

Supervisors agreed to do six improvement projects as soon as possible and leave several others for later in the budget year. The approved projects include:

+ $49,000 to replace Drake elms along Amberly Drive that are overgrown and leaning.

+ $14,000 to clean up illegal dump sites throughout the community.

+ $16,000 to manicure palm trees.

+ $10,000 to repave sections of the bike trail along the Tampa Electric Co. easement.

+ $8,500 to install hanging flower baskets on lampposts at the entrances of Tampa Palms Areas 1 and 2 along Bruce B. Downs Boulevard.

+ $2,700 to restock ponds where the drought has killed fish.

Most other projects under consideration involve playground improvements and floor resurfacing at Hampton Park. The board killed a proposal to remove the racquetball courts, based largely on opposition from David Lanigan, who plays on them.

Supervisors said the district should not spend $6,800 to eliminate a facility that's in use and paid for.

Susan Thurston can be reached at (813) 226-3463.