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Clearwater’s property tax rate stays the same, but bills likely to go up

Increasing property values mean most people will pay more.
 
The Clearwater Police Department gets the largest single chunk of the general fund.
The Clearwater Police Department gets the largest single chunk of the general fund. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published Oct. 2, 2019

CLEARWATER — The property tax rate is staying the same, the operating budget is actually decreasing, yet most city taxpayers will see higher bills this year. That’s because property values are increasing for most people.

The City Council recently approved the $542.2 million operating budget, which represents a 1 percent decrease from last year’s operating budget of $547.1 million. The fiscal year began Tuesday.

The capital budget, which pays for large construction projects, equipment purchases and the like, is set at $95.1 million, a slight decrease from last year’s capital improvement fund of $96.8 million.

The general fund, which pays for the city’s salaries and daily operations, is increasing by about 1 percent, to about $152 million, city budget figures show.

“Taxable home values in Clearwater rose by a total of 6.8 percent in 2019, which includes the value of new construction and annexations,” said Kaylee Kastel, the city’s budget manager.

The property tax rate will remain at $5.95 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable value.

Here is how the city’s $152 million general fund it is expected to be spent, by department:

• The police department gets 29.5 percent.

• Parks and recreation gets 21 percent.

• Clearwater Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, 19 percent.

• Nine percent will go to administrative salaries and costs.

• Seven percent goes to miscellaneous or non-departmental costs.

• Four percent goes to the planning and development department.

• Engineering gets 5.5 percent.

• The city library system gets 5 percent.

The preponderance of general fund spending, 62 percent, goes to paying employee salaries and other labor costs.

The City Council also approved changes to the city’s Penny for Pinellas capital projects list.

According to Kastel, one big change to the list was the addition of $6.5 million toward Imagine Clearwater, which will see the construction of a new Coachman Park, the development of the bluff above it, and the revitalization of downtown.

RELATED STORY: Imagine Clearwater is taking shape. Here’s the latest on the $60 million-plus downtown waterfront.

In addition to Imagine Clearwater, the council approved $6 million for a District 3 substation for the police department. Police Chief Dan Slaughter told the council in August that the department’s buildings, including its headquarters at 645 Pierce St., cannot withstand strong hurricane winds.

The proposed 20,000-square-foot substation will be equipped with offices, training classrooms, and new gun ranges inside a building that can withstand Category 5 winds.

A new downtown parking garage — scheduled to cost $10.5 million over 2025-27 — has been eliminated from the Penny for Pinellas project list. The move frees the money up for other construction, such as the police substation and Imagine Clearwater. Instead, the city will use parking revenues to pay for the garage.

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RELATED STORY: ‘This is not a new complaint’: How Clearwater is working to address its downtown parking challenge

The list also reduced, by $1 million, funds to replace aging fire engines and ladder trucks. However, it adds a replacement schedule ladder truck in 2020, a year earlier than originally scheduled, in 2021.

The project list also postponed, from 2020 to 2023, an aviation operations center project at Clearwater Airpark on Hercules Avenue, Kastel said. The airpark has already received money to pay for a new guard shack at the entrance to the airfield, said Marine and Aviation Director Ed Chesney.

The final change Kastel mentioned on the Penny for Pinellas list was a transfer of funds within the parks and recreation department. The department is shifting $260,000 to finish improvements at Ed C. Wright Park at 1326 S Martin L. King Jr. Ave.