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Belleair Bee
Belleair OKs proposed tax increase
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Photo by BRIAN GOFF
The Belleair water plant provides the community with its own water supply.
BELLEAIR – Belleair residents are facing a slight rise in the property tax millage rate after town commissioners passed the proposed 2013-14 budget Sept. 3 on first reading.

The town’s millage rate was 5.9 last year and in the year ahead it will be 6.02. A resident who owns a $250,000 house will pay just over $1,205 in property tax, an increase of $16 over last year.

The city is proposing a $5.3 million operating budget. Of that amount, the police department would use 25 percent or $1.3 million. The recreation department takes $1.1 million, public works $655,000 and support services $1.6 million.

Second and final reading of the budget will be at the next commission meeting on Sept. 18.

Water rates set

Saying that water revenues were falling short, Finance Director J.P. Murphy presented the commission with a new rate structure that will pay for the system with a little bit left over.

Currently, Belleair residents pay $10.02 monthly for water. The new rate will be higher, $12.37 as a base, then more according to usage. Murphy explained it as a three-tier system.

“Residents who use up to 4,000 gallons will pay $1.86 per 1,000 gallons,” he said. “Those who use between 4,000 and 25,000 gallons will pay $6.21 per thousand gallons and those who use more than 25,000 gallons will pay $7.45 per thousand gallons.”

To coincide with the new rate structure will be the fact that residents will be billed monthly instead of every two months.

“There will be a rate shock, but the billing cycle should help ease that,” Murphy said. “Residents won’t be asked to pay more than is fair and in line with what other communities are paying.”

The money taken in by the new rate will meet the revenue demand of the water system and leave an annual surplus of $16,000.

The community owns the water system. Commissioners are in the middle on an ongoing debate about whether to sell the system or invest in changing it. They have been told the system will be outdated within the next five to 10 years.

The issue will be on the agenda at an upcoming Town Commission meeting.

Winston Park renovation decided

Commissioners decided what to do about the reconstruction of Winston Park in the south end of the community. The waterfront park is currently being used as a staging area for the construction company engaged in that area’s major infrastructure upgrade. Once that project is complete the park will need significant restoration work done.

At a previous meeting, Recreation Director Eric Wahlbeck presented the commission with a plan that local residents preferred. It called for a total expenditure of $84,000 that included basic restoration as well as the establishment of s new Japanese Gardens theme, a child’s play area and a kayak launch site.

Commissioners chose to opt for a lesser cost and approved a plan that cost $36,000. That plan included the addition of water fountains, new landscaping and the creation of open space which local residents wanted so they could have a place to throw a ball.

Resident Nancy Hartshorne objected to that idea.

“I’m not in favor of cutting down trees so people can throw a ball,” she said. “If it was all that important they should have bought a property with enough room in the first place.”

Wahlbeck said no trees were being destroyed. Two palm trees are being relocated in the park but no hardwood trees are affected.

Priority list established

Town manager Micah Maxwell presented the commission with a list of priorities he said he’d like to establish so when the budget allowed he would know what jobs to tackle first.

“We need to start a conversation about these items,” he told commissioners. “No decisions need to be made but I want to make sure this is how you want to go.”

The list began with several items involving road repair and upgrades and worked its way down to the replacement of street signs and the installation of decorative street lighting.

“The list is well put together, it is just what we are thinking,” said Mayor Gary Katica.

“I think you hit the priorities,” said Commissioner Kevin Piccarreto. “Perhaps not in the order I would prefer. I think street lighting is an important priority.”

Maxwell said he could tweak the list as time went on but knowing that the commissioners agreed with it gave him the ability to act accordingly.

Sheriff’s contract approved

Commissioner’s approved a new contract with the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office for the year ahead.

Although Belleair has its own police department, it contracts with the sheriff’s office for such services as the dispatch system, fingerprint examiners, and crime scene technicians.

Total cost of those services is just over $17,000 a decrease of just over $1,000 from the previous year.
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