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County seeks public opinion on budget
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CLEARWATER – Pinellas County Commissioners are beginning their annual outreach to the public, soliciting opinions on how best to balance the budget on diminishing funds.

Commissioners must approve the budget and millage rates for fiscal year 2012-13 by Sept. 18.

The first community outreach meeting on Tuesday, April 10, marks the first time staff has taken an eTownHall meeting on the road.

The meeting begins with an open house from 5:30 to 6:45 p.m. in the Digitorium on the Seminole campus of St. Petersburg College, 9200 113th St. N., Seminole. A live eTownHall follows from 7 to 8 p.m.

Citizens have five ways to participate in the eTownHall. They can attend the event and ask questions as part of the live audience in the Digitorium. The can listen to the event and ask questions by calling 888-886-6603, conference number 18273. Staff also will be calling some residents during the show.

Residents also can view the event online or on PCC-TV - Bright House Channel 622, Knology Channel 18 or Verizon Channel 44. They can tweet using the hashtag #pinellasetown and they can blog at www.p­inell­ascou­nty.o­rg/eT­ownHa­ll. Blog opens at 9 a.m. Monday, April 9, and stays open throughout the event on Tuesday.

A computer will be available at the live event for those who prefer to send a question through the blog or Twitter.

The eTownHall will be moderated by Dick Crippen, senior adviser with the Tampa Bay Rays and an active member of the community. Dr. William D. Law Jr., president of St. Petersburg College, will provide an introduction. All seven county commissioners and County Administrator Bob LaSala will be available for the discussion and will answer questions.

The Pinellas County Community Forum is the kickoff to the FY2013 budget outreach, which will focus on developing strategies to define the future of the community and the services that the county provides, according to Pinellas County Communications.

Pinellas County is the first government in Tampa Bay to integrate five forms of participation in an interactive, online event. Now, it is the first to hold the eTownHall at a public venue with a live audience and the first in the area to combine it with a traditional open house style of a public meeting.

Two additional budget outreach events are scheduled. One on May 10, 5 p.m., at Safety Harbor City Hall, 750 Main St. The second is on May 15 at St. Petersburg City Hall, 175 Fifth St. N.

For more information, go to eTownHall, call 727-464-3000 or watch a video of one of the prior eTownHall events on You Tube.

Another budget shortfall

LaSala made it clear during a presentation of the 10-year budget forecast on Feb. 7 that the county’s current reduced level of services would not be sustainable. He said commissioners must either reduce services or find ways to bring in more revenue.

Areas of concern include the transportation trust fund that staff says will be out of money by FY 2015 unless something is done. The fund pays for road maintenance and stormwater needs. One idea on the table is creation of a stormwater tax. Staff says new, stricter regulations for management of stormwater will be costly. Currently, there is no way to pay those costs.

Commissioners continue to struggle with funding for emergency medical services and fire protection. Plans to cut expenditures are stalled. Staff says commissioners most likely will need to consider additional increases in the EMS and fire district millage rates, as well as ambulance fees.

The general fund, which pays the bulk of the county’s operating expenses and personnel costs, as well as expenses for the sheriff’s office and constitutional officers, will need projected cuts of $11.9 million in 2013, plus another $10.7 million in 2014. Things look even worse for future years. Staff anticipates that available revenue for 2013 will be less than it was in 2002.

The county will have a better idea of its budget deficit after the tax collector certifies estimates of taxable values on July 1. Two-thirds of the revenue for the general fund comes from property taxes.

For more information, visit www.p­inell­ascou­nty.o­rg/bu­dget.
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