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Zephyrhills looks at charter changes

(ran East edition)

City Council members will consider forming a committee to review the city's charter and make changes, which would require voter approval.

Council member Celia Graham proposed changes specifically to the section that addresses the roles of council members and the city manager. She said in a memo that she thinks recent conflicts have jeopardized productivity and the city's reputation.

She said trouble can arise when council members, instead of the city manager, contact outside parties on behalf of the city. Beyond that point, she did not specify her concerns.

"I think it's important for us to make sure city business runs smoothly," Graham said in a City Council meeting Monday evening.

The city's charter has not been updated in more than 10 years. City Manager Steve Spina agreed the document needs a comprehensive review.

Council members agreed to hold a workshop soon to discuss Graham's concerns, and Spina said he will begin researching a charter review, a process that would take several months.

In other news Monday:

Council members passed the nearly $30-million budget and property tax rate of 6.42 mills.

After trimming expenses across all departments, city officials arrived at a $12-million operating budget for 2004-05. In July, Spina proposed a half-mill tax increase to cover shortfalls. But the council rejected the idea, leaving the rate the same it has been the last 14 years.

A mill represents $1 for every $1,000 in taxable property value. So a person who owns a home worth $100,000, minus the $25,000 homestead exemption, would pay $481.50 in city taxes.

Millage rates do not take into account increasing property values. So residents whose homes are assessed at higher levels still could see an increase on their tax bills over last year, even though the rate is unchanged.

The 2004-05 budget includes a 3 percent pay raise for all city employees, several park improvements and six new police cars. But the city cut in half the annual contributions it makes to the Main Street organization, Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce and YMCA.