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Safety Harbor cuts its property tax rate

City commissioners considered two options as they tackled the coming year's budget: keep the current tax rate or cut the rate to the lowest point in 30 years.

They chose the cut, to a tax rate of $2.97 for every $1,000 of assessed property value, a 14-cent drop from the current $3.11-per-thousand tax rate.

But this did not go without some rumblings from city staff who expressed concern about rolling back property taxes for the sixth year in a row.

"Given the economic conditions, with a forecast that these trends may continue for another two years the probability of maintaining the posture of going back to rollback (next year) will be difficult at best," City Manager Wayne Logan wrote to commissioners last month.

"Thus with these types of trends it may be fiscally prudent to take a more conservative approach and maintain the current millage rate of 3.1071," he added.

The city collected $2,290,461 in property taxes this year. Had commissioners kept the same tax rate, it would have generated an additional $126,776 in the coming year.

Even with the tax rate cut, the city expects to get $17,671 more than this year because of new construction and rising property values.

"In times where there are people having a tough time now in a tough economy, I didn't think it was prudent to have a tax increase based on someone's property going up in value," Vice Mayor Keith Zayac said. "If the citizens need to tighten their belt due to the economy, the city needs to do the same."

Others agreed.

"Safety Harbor is a financially wealthy city at this time, and we have the money to do the projects that we need to," said Commissioner Robin Borland. "At this time I don't see a need to raise the taxes."

"Would we have to do it in the future? Possibly," she added. "But we will have to look at that in the future."

Commissioners also approved the addition of seven positions to the city staff.

Among them were two public works employees, three recreation employees for the city's new community center and a new city special events coordinator brought on by the increased number of city-organized events.

"I don't think we've been given a bad level of service, I just can't think of any year we've added seven new positions," said Commissioner Neil Brickfield, who questioned creating the new positions. "I just wanted to make sure we weren't adding positions just to be adding positions."

Also in the budget is money for a 14,500-square-foot addition to the community center at 650 Ninth Ave. S, which will include the addition of a gymnasium, multipurpose room, classroom, office space and more parking.

There will be a public hearing on the budget before it is adopted in September.

What would you pay?

Safety Harbor commissioners propose a tax rate of $2.97 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable property value. That means the owner of a house valued at $125,000 who claims a standard $25,000 homestead exemption would pay $297 in city property taxes. That's a decrease of $14 from the current rate.