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Weeki Wachee budget a rehash

Bound by new restrictions on their taxing authority and looking to keep their few citizens happy, city commissioners gave primary approval Friday to essentially the same budget they adopted last year.

The millage will remain at its current rate of $2.55 per $1,000 of assessed property, a sharp contrast from last year's decision to nearly double property taxes within the city.

Under the adopted rate, the owner of a $100,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption will pay $191.25.

At $68,513, the overall budget for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 is less than last year's $80,288.

Increased property values this year will provide the city with more tax money without it having to raise taxes, City Attorney Joe Mason said.

Also, total expenditures are projected to be lower because the city won't tap reserves as it was forced to do last year to make its budget, Mason said.

Weeki Wachee significantly reduced its reserves and budgeted $30,103 in legal expenses for 2003-04 to tackle legal bills unlike any in the city's 37-year history. The costs were associated with the city's failed attempt to forcefully take over the Florida Water utilities in Spring Hill.

The city also acquired the company that owns the Weeki Wachee Springs tourist attraction through a donation, but then had to defend the transfer before its landlord, the Southwest Florida Water Management District.

Legal expenses are projected to be only $15,000 this year, despite several lawsuits still pending between Swiftmud and the city.

Commissioners said their scaled-back budget reflected a commitment they made last year to slow spending once Weeki Wachee overcame its steep financial obligations.

"We didn't really see a need to raise (the millage rate)," Mayor Robyn Anderson said.

The city's discretion to raise property taxes was curtailed earlier this year by legislation that limited tax increases in Weeki Wachee to 3 percent per year.

Sponsored by state Rep. Dave Russell, R-Brooksville, and signed by the governor in June, the bill also revoked the city's power to exercise the right of eminent domain and change its boundaries through annexation.

A final budget hearing is set for Oct. 5 at 5:01 p.m. in Weeki Wachee City Hall. Though specific line items in the budget could change before that hearing, the total expenditures will not increase, officials said.

Colleen Jenkins can be reached (352) 848-1432 or cjenkinssptimes.com.

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