With Clearwater’s 13% rise in property values this year, City Manager Jon Jennings planned to put every one of those additional tax dollars to use.
His first budget as city manager, unveiled in July, proposed keeping the tax rate the same as it’s been since 2018 and using the added $9.3 million to fill staffing shortages and expand services.
But during recent budget discussions, Mayor Frank Hibbard said it would be “a little reckless” to take on so many new positions considering uncertainties to come in the economy. With such a windfall in tax revenues, Hibbard said residents should also be given some kind of a break.
At the council’s direction, city staff cut $1 million from the proposed budget to drop the 2023 tax rate by 0.07%. The City Council on Thursday will vote on a tax rate of $5.88 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable value.
Because property values have increased, residents will still pay more on their tax bills than last year, but they will pay $7 less per $100,000 than they would have under the originally unchanged rate.
“The optics, according to all the people that I’ve spoken to, they really want some kind of gesture to share in what they call the wealth,” council member Lina Teixeira said during a Sept. 1 meeting.
Jennings originally proposed funding 62 new positions, but by eliminating vacancies and moving other staff between funding sources, the budget would have created 33 new positions. In order to slash $1 million from the budget, city staff cut new positions down to 27.
The $651 million budget is still 4% larger than last year.
If approved on Thursday and at a second hearing on Sept. 29, here’s what will be cut from the budget presented in July:
- A new librarian and assistant librarian who would have opened the North Greenwood Library on Friday mornings and Saturdays, when the facility is currently closed. The city will explore shifting open days and times using the current staff.
- A city staffer to work as a liaison between the city and community. The newly formed neighborhood coordinator team will include three positions instead of four.
- Four custodians who were to be part of a team allowing the city to reopen restrooms at six neighborhood parks. The restrooms will stay closed and the grounds will be maintained by contractors. The Parks and Recreation department will get 10 new positions instead of 14, and its budget will be cut by $460,000 over the next year.
- A $200,000 cut in the budget for street and sidewalk repair.
The budget still includes Jennings’ reorganization of some departments. He created a Public Works department that will streamline the repair of streets, sidewalks and medians.
Jennings also created an Office of Innovation, which aims to be proactive on tasks like taking resident complaints, improving traffic flow and finding ways to use artificial intelligence in city operations. The office will also include the neighborhood coordinators and a new sustainability specialist.