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"Windfall' prompts talk of rolling back tax rate

Published Sep. 3, 2005

(ran Beach edition)

The value of taxable property is expected to rise 17.5 percent, which has led the city's Finance and Budget Review Committee to recommend reducing the tax rate.

During last week's budget workshop, committee chairman Ed Piniero urged the City Commission to consider cutting the tax rate by 5 percent. "When we get a windfall of money, you can give some back to the community," he said, arguing that nonexempt properties would be hit the hardest by the valuation increase.

But the City Commission didn't endorse the idea, at least not yet. "I'm an old union man and when you have money in hand, you don't give it up," said Mayor Bob DiNicola, who defended how the city has spent property tax revenues.

Commissioner R.B. Johnson cautioned it would be "difficult to raise the millage back" once it is cut.

The proposed 2002-2003 city budget calls for the property tax rate to remain unchanged at 2.5185 mills _ for the ninth year in a row. A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of nonexempt real property. The only other beach communities to levy higher property rates are Treasure Island (2.672 mills) and St. Pete Beach (2.9378 mills), according to City Manager Tom Brobeil.

The city had about $7.9-million in new construction posted on the tax rolls during the past year.

Although the city expects to collect more in taxes, total city revenues are expected to decrease next year, largely because of fewer grants and borrowing from capital funds, as well as reductions in building and other fees.

The proposed $5-million city budget is about 18 percent lower than the current budget, and does not include the cost of either a proposed assistant to the city manager or a community policing officer. Piniero said either position could be afforded even if taxes were cut 5 percent to 2.3296 mills.

No decision on a tax cut was reached, pending further discussion of the budget. The commission will hold another budget workshop at 7:30 p.m. on Tuesday. Formal public hearings on the budget will be held Aug. 21 and 28, both at 7:30 p.m.

Other highlights of Wednesday's budget discussion included:

+ The city manager was directed to find out whether the Sheriff's Office would be willing to swap the equivalent of one deputy on one shift for a community policing officer who would work a flexible schedule as determined by the city.

"We have immediate backup right across the bridge if we need it," said Brobeil.

The city presently has two deputies patrolling each shift around the clock. Commissioners said they need greater coverage in the evening and on weekends. A community policing officer is trained to work closely with residents and businesses to identify neighborhoods issues and problems.

+ The commission agreed to hire an assistant for Brobeil, who said the position will provide continuity for the city if he were to leave or retire.

+ Mayor DiNicola argued that moving the waterfront solid waste treatment facility is "critical" to completing the redevelopment of the Narrows. He was unsuccessful, however, in getting any agreement from the commission to direct the city manager to study the cost and feasibility of moving the facility.

The commission disagreed strongly on what the voters intended last year when they defeated a referendum that would have allowed the commission to consider selling the property.