CLEARWATER – Pinellas County employees will likely see a small boost in their paycheck during fiscal year 2014, which begins Oct. 1.
County Administrator Bob LaSala told commissioners during a meeting Aug. 20, he was budgeting for a 3 percent raise for county employees, who are part of the Unified Personnel system – a small boost from 2.8 percent he recommended in his initial budget released July 9.
LaSala said he was suggesting the increase in consideration of the work done by employees and trends in the workplace that merit the bigger pay raise. He said the money would come from departmental budgets and would not require a change to the proposed millage.
The proposed general fund millage rate for FY 2014 is 5.2755, an increase from the current year’s rate of 5.0105. If approved county residents will pay just over $5.27 for every $1,000 of their properties assessed value. The portion of the tax bill for the general fund on a home with an assessed value of $99,967 would increase $26.49 if the rate is approved.
Tentative millage rates are shown on Truth in Millage Notices (TRIM) mailed from the Property Appraiser’s Office Aug. 19. The rates can be lowered during the public hearings and final approval, but cannot be increased.
The commission has scheduled two public hearings on the millage rates and budgets. The dates are Thursday, Sept. 5, and Tuesday, Sept. 17. The hearings begin at 6 p.m. in the fifth floor Assembly Room of the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St. in Clearwater.
Commissioners used $561,550 in funds from the Service Level Stabilization Account to provide money for social action and homeless initiative agencies in FY 2014. Staff was asked to include that money in next year’s budget.
Commissioners have been debating the timing of changes to how money is awarded to nonprofit organizations providing services to needy residents next year. The final decision was to wait until next year to give the organizations time to prepare.
Priority funding was given to Neighborly Care Network, which provides meals for homebound seniors, to help the agency deal with federal sequestration and budget cuts. Priority also was given to agencies providing emergency shelter for the homeless and shelter beds for families with children, agencies providing food access services, such as food pantries and food distribution centers, and agencies that use county fund to meet requirements for a matching grant.
Agencies receiving social action funding for FY 2014:
• Community law program
• Neighborly Care Network
• Operation Hope of Pinellas
• St. Petersburg Free Clinic
• Suncoast Epilepsy Association
• Tarpon Springs Shepherd Center
• Daystar Life Center
Agencies receiving funding for homeless initiatives:
• Community Action Stops Abuse
• Westcare Gulfcoast – Florida
• Young Women’s Christian Association of Tampa Bay
• Pinellas County Homeless Leadership Board
• 2-1-1 Tampa Bay Cares
Agencies receiving social action and homeless initiatives funding:
• Religious Community Services
• The Salvation Army of St. Petersburg
• Society of St. Vincent de Paul
The commission asked staff to work with the agencies to find a way to lower administrative costs so more of the money could go directly for services.
“Seventy percent (of the money) is not getting to people who need help,” said Commissioner Norm Roche. “Seventy percent ought to go to help people and the rest to salary and administrative costs.”
Health and Human Services Director Gwendolyn Warren said she planned to begin working with the agencies in the spring closer to the time they begin work on their budgets.
Surface water fees
Commissioners also approved the non-ad valorem assessment agreement with the county tax collector to add a surface water management utility fee to the tax bills of property owners in unincorporated parts of the county.
They talked about a plan to assist with hardship cases to help make sure people don’t lose their homes because they couldn’t pay the new fee. The utility tax will be part of the property tax bill and must be paid in full within two years or risk the property being sold at auction.
Kelli Levy, section manager for Natural Resources section of the Department of Environment and Infrastructure, said no cities within the county offered exemptions or reduced rates for low-income property owners. However, she said, staff did find a policy in Bay County for qualifying senior citizens, low income seniors and disabled veterans and others who qualify for additional ad valorem homestead exemptions.
Levy said another county funding source was needed to fund the exemptions. She said any exemptions to the assessment fee must be paid back and that surface water assessment funds cannot be used. She said one funding source could be the Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) contingency fund.
“Some people cannot pay another $10 a month,” Commission Chair Ken Welch said. “I thought a waiver would be there to protect these folks.”
Commissioner Karen Seel suggested looking at starting a “Good Neighbor Fund,” which is used by Duke Energy and the city of Clearwater. The programs allow private citizens to donate to the fund to help those in need pay their bills.
Levy said Duke Energy’s program was funded by a federal grant. She did not know how Clearwater operates its program. The commission directed staff to work on establishing a Good Neighbor program.
In other business:
• The commission approved fee increases for FY 2014
• LaSala announced that Health and Human Service had received a $600,000 federally funded Navigator Grant to help guide the process of the Affordable Healthcare Act.
• The commission approved an applicant for the Qualified Target Industry Tax Refund program. LaSala said the application was for 143 jobs with pay exceeding 115 percent of the annual wage requirement.
• The commission heard an appeal from an attorney representing Bright House about a lawsuit over cut cables during the construction of the Belleair Beach Causeway.
• The commission approved an amendment to an interlocal agreement with the county’s constitutional officers allowing them to terminate and withdraw from the Business Technology Services Board.