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Crystal River City Council finds money to retain current tax rate

When the City Council started budget talks two months ago, it anticipated a $200,000 shortfall and steep cuts in the Police Department.

However, finance director Donna Kilbury said, "We've gotten lucky since we put the budget together."

The state came through with a grant for the city to buy the Conklin property off NW Third Street, saving Crystal River $54,755 this year in payments. Then property valuations came in $57,785 higher than expected. And now the city has to pay $91,774 less than estimated into the state retirement account.

With that money in mind, the council decided Tuesday at a budget workshop to hold the millage rate at 5.8, its current rate. That will have to be approved by a formal vote at its Monday meeting.

One mill is equivalent to $1 of tax for each $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt real property.

Although the council still will have to hash over the details of the budget, it may spare the Police Department deep cuts. The department will keep all its officers but lose one records clerk as the situation stands, Chief James Farley said. The four corporals also will lose their stripes and take a 5 percent pay cut.

Farley fought to keep those positions at the workshop, saying the loss of the records clerk could lead to some service delays. The clerks handle more than 16,000 calls and walk-ins each year. And, he said Wednesday, the corporals earn their positions through experience and tests. Their leadership is needed in the absence of higher officers.

But it is an improvement over losing six officers.

"Part of the process is (the council) listened to their constituents," Farley said.

Kilbury said that with an operating budget of $3.6-million, finding $200,000 to cut can prove very difficult. "So far I think we're very fortunate," she said.

Council member John Kendall said the council will still have to look at the allocation of budget funds even after the millage rate is locked in at Monday's meeting. He had wanted to see steeper cuts in the Police Department but said, "For the time being, I'll acquiesce."

The Public Works Department needs better equipment, and he would like to find some money in the budget to provide it, Kendall added.

Council member Susan Kirk said she agreed that Public Works needs more money but did not want to see the Police Department bear the burden on its own, especially after losing two positions and vehicles last year.

Eliminating the rank of corporal would be detrimental to morale, she said. "You can't replace that experience. . . . You just can't take the stripes off them and take their money away."

Kirk said she did not think other positions in the Police Department are secure until the final budget is approved.