ST. PETE BEACH – City commissioners voted unanimously Sept. 3 to cut St. Pete Beach’s tax rate by 13 percent.
They set the millage at 2.85 mills, which is equivalent to $2.85 for every $1 of assessed property value. The current rate is 3.28 mills.
They also approved a budget for the next fiscal year that will include a transfer of an additional $900,000 from the general fund, also called the operating budget, to the capital improvements program. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
For months St. Pete Beach officials have talked about the city being in a better financial position than in previous years stemming from its action to eliminate the police department and contract with the Sheriff’s Office for law enforcement services.
The total transfer to the capital improvements fund for the next fiscal year is $1.82 million.
“Which really I think is a very significant accomplishment that everybody should be proud of,” City Manager Michael Bonfield said. “That’s about 12 percent of the general fund budget going to our capital improvements.”
When he started as city manager 12 years ago, the commission set a goal of a 5 percent transfer of money from the general fund to the capital improvements fund. For many years the city couldn’t reach that goal because of budget conditions, Bonfield said.
The capital improvements program includes a number of projects that have been planned for some time, the most significant, Bonfield said, being the Blind Pass Road project, which includes drainage, resurfacing and sidewalk work.
The work is in the design phase and Bonfield expects the city to go to bid on the project by the end of the year. Construction should begin by the spring.
The operating budget decreased from $15.7 million for the current fiscal year to $14.7 million for the next fiscal year.
“It’s a very frugal budget in many ways, but it’s also allocating money in some areas that have been important for some long time. I think from a budget standpoint, we have turned the corner a little bit and now have some moneys to deal with some things that have been unattended for quite some time,” he said.
Included in the budget is a 2.5 percent merit increase average for Communications Workers of America and nonunion employees.
In other budget highlights, the wastewater fund reflects a 4 percent increase in fees, which covers the increase in treatment costs by the city of St. Petersburg.
During the current fiscal year St. Petersburg increased the rate charged to St. Pete Beach by 7.8 percent as per its policy to ensure adequate revenue to offset expenditures.
St. Pete Beach commissioners adopted an ordinance Sept. 3 approving the 4 percent increase and 8 percent increases in reclaimed water fees for the next fiscal year.
A city memo said that due to the age and condition of the reclaimed water distribution system the city experienced a significant spike in repair costs in fiscal year 2012, resulting in the city not being able to make the $71,176 general fund loan payment. Consequently, the reclaimed water fund still owes the general fund $415,496.
City officials upgraded one part-time position to full-time. That employee will deal with parking decals and other matters.
“Other than that we are just adding a few hours to part time positions at the library and the rec center that are due just to cover the increases in the usages that we have at those facilities,” Bonfield said.
No citizen spoke at the public hearings. The final public hearings on the budget and tax rate will be held Wednesday, Sept. 18. In accordance with state law, the meeting dates have been changed from their regular dates so that the hearings don’t conflict with public hearings on the county and school board budgets and tax rates.
In other matters commissioners established the dates for the 2014 election. The qualification period will run from noon Monday, Dec. 9, to noon Friday, Dec. 13.
The election will be held Tuesday, March 11.
Seats held by Lorraine Huhn, District 1, Marvin Shavlan, District 3, and Mayor Steve McFarlin will be on the ballot.