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Tarpon Springs budget plan sticks to the basics

With the city still paying off its new public safety building, there is little big spending to be considered by the Tarpon Springs City Commission when it holds its first workshop on next year's budget Monday night.

The city's draft 2002-2003 budget calls for keeping the same property tax rate _ about 4.95 mills, or $4.95 in tax for every $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt property value _ as this year. Even with the same tax rate, however, homeowners will pay more if the assessed value of their home has increased.

For someone who had a home assessed at $125,000 and who received a $25,000 homestead exemption, that rate would translate into a city tax bill of $494.54 next year.

Because of rising assessments and new construction, that rate is expected to bring in an additional 5.74 percent in revenue next year, said city finance director Arie Walker.

The only large purchase of consequence that will be considered, said Mayor Frank DiDonato, is whether to build a Little League baseball field for the league's oldest players, ages 16 to 18. The league has outgrown its facilities on Meres Boulevard, DiDonato said, and the senior league currently shares a field with Tarpon Springs High School.

"They really need a field of their own," DiDonato said.

Several locations are being considered, he said.

The major chunks of discretionary city spending over the next few years probably will be for water and sewer projects and streets, DiDonato said.

"That's the direction that I see that we need to concentrate on," DiDonato said.

The preliminary budget earmarks $1-million for sewer projects next year, said Paul Smith, the city's public services administrator. Half of that would go toward expanding the city's sewer system to those currently using septic systems. One of the high priority areas for sewer service is those homes next to Lake Tarpon. Septic systems there have been blamed for worsening water quality in the lake.

Pending commission approval, another $500,000 would go toward rehabilitating the existing city sewer system, Smith said. That would mostly include inserting a liner into old pipes to prevent leaking and ensure proper flow.

"The next couple of years will be catching up (to pay for purchases such as the new public safety building) and infrastructure," DiDonato said.

Walker declined to discuss the specifics of the budget pending the first workshop session Monday.

"We really haven't gotten any feedback from the commission yet," Walker said.