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IT'S TIME TO TWEAK THE BUDGET

Today's open meeting offers the public a chance to give ideas for finalizing the plan.

Clearwater officials today will fine-tune the city's annual spending plan, deciding whether more services should be put back, or perhaps, taken out.

Already the City Council has added $1.7-million to the upcoming fiscal year budget, and some council members say that's about all they'll put back in. However, they haven't ruled out more tweaks.

As it stands, three recreation centers, a library and contributions to a number of events and nonprofit outside agencies once slated for the chopping block are back in for another year.

But the city - because it didn't roll back the millage rate as suggested in the proposed Fiscal Year 2007-08 budget - also has about $1.3-million it could still use.

The council will meet at 3 p.m. today at Clearwater City Hall. The public is welcome to speak.

"I think what you'll see us do (today) is solidify some of the things, talk about the cuts that were made," Mayor Frank Hibbard said.

City Manager Bill Horne's proposed budget initially reduced the city's property tax rate by 15.5 percent. But the council last week agreed to roll it back by 10.2 percent next year, just enough to meet the state Legislature's mandate to roll back total collections about 7 percent.

That change left the city with $3-million it could put back into the budget.

But, after last week's decision, council members say they are disinclined to further reduce property taxes because, in part, revenues could further shrink if voters in January authorize a Super Homestead exemption that adds additional limits to property tax collections.

"We need to focus on not spending every dollar ... so we should be looking at some of that extra money going into reserves," Council member Paul Gibson said.

One service city officials do expect to address, said Council member George Cretekos, is the Jolley Trolley. Officials with the beach transit system initially said they need $229,000 for the upcoming fiscal year, but the council set aside only $150,000. Cretekos and the mayor on Tuesday questioned whether that is enough to keep it fully operating.

The city will hold a couple of meetings in September before finalizing the $390-million spending plan, which takes effect Oct. 1.

Overall, the city has reduced spending by more than $5-million for the upcoming year. Still on the chopping block: about 60 full-time jobs, library and recreation hours, beautification projects and the Officer Friendly program that educates neighborhoods and students about safety.

IF YOU GO

Express your views

The City Council will hold a meeting at 3 p.m. today at City Hall, 112 S. Osceola Ave., to talk about Clearwater's $390-million budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1. The public is allowed to speak.

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