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Temple Terrace considers tax hike

TEMPLE TERRACE — Most residents who spoke at two recent workshops urged the Temple Terrace City Council to resist raising taxes. But the council, torn between that or cutting the level of service that residents tended to praise, appears ready to hike the average homeowner's property taxes by $104 a year.

The council is set to approve a boost from $6.305 per thousand dollars of assessed value to $7.205 per thousand to help fund next fiscal year's $45.8 million budget.

"I'm tired of it. It's over,'' resident Annette Renny told the council. "You have to stop spending money like it's yours, like it's a personal shopping spree.''

Putting a crimp in the council's options are payments on $29 million in debt, the bulk being loans of about $24 million taken out years ago to purchase land and add infrastructure for downtown redevelopment. The city is also paying $1.6 million to settle a lawsuit that severed the deal with the property's last developer.

The city also has taken over payments on a $3.1 million loan that the Temple Terrace Golf & Country Club took out in 2005. The club's directors have asked for time to reimburse the city. It has launched a marketing campaign in an effort to draw new members and put the club back on sound footing.

Some urged the council of this 90-year-old town — one of the nation's first planned golf communities — to abandon support of the golf club, which leases the city-owned course that has traditionally been the centerpiece of the city's image.

Resident Don Balaban predicted that the country club would not be able to pay the city back.

"It's not going to happen,'' he said. "Golf is dying, just like baseball.''

Included in the budget is a two-step pay increase totalling 2.75 percent for non-union city employees, and more money for health care benefits.

The council put off hiring an additional landscaping crew member until another year, and it also delayed spending money to join the Certified Local Government Program, which would help residents get historic homes listed on the National Register of Historic Places and make the city eligible for grants for its own preservation projects.

The city plans to raise water and sewer user fees by 5 percent, which City Manager Gerald Seeber said would add about $4 monthly to the bill of residents "who don't do a lot of irrigation.'' The sanitation bill will increase by 10 percent, or $2.33 a month.

Even with the property tax increase, the council has to draw on $924,000 in reserves to meet next year's operating expenses, and Seeber predicted it would need to draw a similar amount from reserves the following year unless it can bring in more revenue.

The city manager has recommended that the council consider establishing fire and storm-water assessment fees in future years to help pay bills and keep a two-month reserve fund. He said adding those fees could free the council from having to hike property taxes year after year.

Residents will get more opportunities to make comments when the board meets next Thursday and Sept. 15 to finalize the budget, which takes effect Oct. 1.

Contact Philip Morgan at pmorgan@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3435.

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