BELLEAIR BLUFFS – A 6.5 percent decrease in the city of Belleair Bluff’s property values last year was nearly halted this year as the rate of decline slowed to one-half of one percent, according to Property Appraiser Pam Dubov.
Dubov reported at the June 18 Belleair Bluffs City Commission meeting that the continuing reduction came mostly from condominiums. Single-family residences are faring better, and commercial values, including apartments and retail spaces, are doing reasonably well, she said.
Dubov added the trends in Belleair Bluffs mirror what is happening throughout Pinellas County.
As to whether conditions will continue to improve in 2013, Dubov said a big unknown is foreclosures, which peaked at 15,000 for the 2009 tax year, then declined to 11,000 in 2010, 6,400 last year, then jumped to 10,000 this year. The areas of the county where property values dropped the most this year were those with the highest foreclosure rates, she said.
Another factor, which will affect property tax revenue next year, is the fate of five constitutional amendments related to property taxes on the ballot this November, Dubov indicated. These relate either to new exemptions, expansions of earlier exemptions, or extensions of benefits already on the books. Passage of these amendments could result in a reduction to the county tax roll revenues of up to 1 percent, Dubov said.
Voters to decide commission terms
A referendum vote on extending the terms of the mayor and commissioners from two to three years appears headed to the November ballot. The commission unanimously approved sending an amendment authorizing the term increases to the voters. A second reading will be on the agenda next month.
Elections cost money to hold, and fewer elections would mean savings for the city, City Clerk Debra Sullivan has pointed out. Commission members would also benefit by having to run less often, reducing their campaign expenses.
Commissioner Joseph Barkley said he agreed the three-year terms would save money, but not as much as going to a fall election campaign with longer extensions. A November election would also assure a bigger turnout, he added.
Mayor Chris Arbutine disagreed with Barkley, saying the spring elections bring out voters more knowledgeable of local candidates and issues.
“If we switch to the fall, we will get people who don’t pay any attention to city politics and don’t know what is going on,” he said. Besides, Belleair Bluffs gets “a pretty high rate of turnout” for city elections, far higher than most other communities, Arbutine asserted.
A similar term extension measure was rejected by a nearly 2 to 1 margin when put to the voters in 2006. Arbutine has said other issues on the ballot that year may have influenced that vote.
Budget talks begin
Discussions of the upcoming year’s budget has begun, with City Clerk/Finance Director Debra Sullivan telling the commission that keeping the millage rate the same will could result in a $20,000 revenue loss. That is due mostly to the expected slight decline in property values.
Law enforcement costs make up a major portion of the budget expense, and that cost was set for the upcoming year with approval of a $451,200 contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. Police commissioner Taylour Shimkus said the cost this year was “pretty much the same,” a less than 1 percent increase over last year.
Fourth of July festivities set
The community Fourth of July event, co-sponsored by the Bluffs Business Association, is set for 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Wednesday, July 4, at the community center.
It will feature the traditional hot dogs and burgers, with entertainment, an inflatable bounce house, and the chance to dunk the mayor.