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Belleair Bluffs eyes utility tax
City officials say increase is needed to replace declining fund balances
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BELLEAIR BLUFFS – This year’s city budget presentation wound up with a staff recommendation to impose a 10 percent utility tax on electricity used by Belleair Bluffs residents and businesses.

The amount would increase based on usage.

A citywide tax would generate around $200,000 in additional revenue, which could be used to replenish the city’s general and capital funds, finance officer Andrew Tess said at the Aug. 12 commission workshop. Both funds have seen sharp declines over the past four years, with the general fund balance falling since 2011 from $2.7 million to an estimated $865,000 in 2014 and the capital fund dropping from over a million dollars to just over $200,000, Tess said.

A drop from $2.5 million to $934,000 in the general fund this year was nearly all due to a $1.5 million pension payment made to the city’s former firefighters.

The general fund has been used to help finance the capital fund, which has been depleted mostly to pay for massive ongoing drainage control/street refurbishing project.

No increase in the millage (tax) rate is being proposed, which will bring the city a modest increase in revenue over the coming year, based on an expected small rise in property values. That increase in taxable values would be the first in more than six years, Tess said

His budget review showed revenue declines in three of the past four years, due to factors such as declining property values combined with additional homestead exemptions, decreases in Penny for Pinellas tax money and collections from fines and forfeitures.

The decline in taxable property values alone has resulted in a revenue loss of over $500,000 over the last four years.

Tess said Belleair Bluffs is one of only five municipalities in the county not to have an electric utility tax. The others – Belleair, Indian Rocks Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Beach – all have higher property values than Belleair Bluffs and do not need additional revenues, said City Clerk/Finance Director Debra Sullivan.

As the city’s reserves begin to grow, the millage rate, which is currently the county’s fifth highest, could be reduced, Tess said.

Adding a utility tax is a recommendation of city staff only at this point. It will need to be acted on by the commission before it can be adopted, Sullivan stressed in a comment made following the meeting. To become effective, the tax would have to be presented in an ordinance and be discussed and voted on by the commission. The earliest a utility tax could be adopted would be the 2014/15 budget year.

The commissioners did not comment on the utility tax recommendation at the workshop.

Dog dining vote coming

The commission will decide whether to allow dogs to dine with patrons in outdoor areas of the city restaurants at the Aug. 19 regular commission meeting. Commissioner Suzy Sofer, who owns Cody’s restaurant, said she had heard positive comments on doggie dining from other local restaurateurs.

A letter sent by the city to all restaurants in the city seeking reaction to the idea drew no negative comments “and a few thought it was a good idea,” city Clerk Debra Sullivan reported.

Indications are the ordinance allowing dog-friendly dining will pass easily.
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