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Clearwater tax rate may remain the same
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CLEARWATER – City Manager Bill Horne is recommending that the city’s tax rate remain at 5.15 mills in presenting a proposed $391.6 million budget for the next fiscal year.

The general fund, or operating budget, is $116.9 million, an increase of 2 percent from the current budget.

If approved by the City Council, the tax rate, equivalent to $5.15 for every $1,000 of assessed property value, would be the same as it has been for the past five years.

“This proposal goes a long way toward stabilizing the city’s financial future,” Horne wrote in a budget message. “First the budget reflects a balanced general fund budget, and for the first time in four years, the general fund budget does not look to reserves to balance a shortfall in operating revenues.”

Nevertheless, it most likely will be many years before the city sees growth such as it had in the 1970s and 1980s. Although property values grew by more than 5 percent this year, total revenue growth is more in line with the growth of the CPI at just more than 2 percent, Horne said.

“Therefore, we are still working with fairly constrained resources where logic and smart growth, rather than passion for change, must prevail,” he wrote.

For the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1, the budget includes funding for the equivalent of 1,708.9 full-time employees, an increase of 12.4 positions over the amended budget for the current fiscal year.

The overall increase in staffing changes are related to additional support positions for the water and sewer and gas operations.

No general wage increases are budgeted for the fiscal year.

The tax rate of 5.15 mills will generate about $38.4 million to support general fund operations in the next fiscal year, a 5 percent increase of about $1.9 million from the current budget.

Taxable property values in 2014 have increased by approximately 5.3 percent, from $7.7 billion to $8.1 billion, including new construction. The value of new construction totals $30 million. This is the second increase in valuations that the City has recognized in seven years, the budget says.

In other budget highlights:

• As planned Penny for Pinellas funding, a 1-cent sales tax, will provide $3.3 million for the construction of the Countryside Fire Station in the new fiscal year, continuing the planned replacement of several of the city’s fire station’s in the current 10-year infrastructure sales tax cycle.

• Penny for Pinellas funding also is earmarked for a $1.7 million reconstruction of the police firing range at the Countryside substation. The shooting range was built more than 30 years ago and major improvements are needed at the facility.

• Funding from the Penny for Pinellas also recommended for the replacement of a fire department engine at a cost of $549,830.

• Bright House Field is slated for repairs in the amount of $660,000 over the next two years. The first phase will include caulking and sealing of joints in the structure and the replacement of the scoreboard. The video display board will be replaced in the second phase. Funding will come from the operating budget.

• Improvements for the restroom and concession building at Phillip Jones Park are proposed as well as repairs and improvements to the press box and storage facility at a cost of $220,000.

At its July 17 meeting, the City Council will be asked to set the tentative millage rate. The first public hearing on the tax rate and budget will be held Thursday, Sept. 4, 6 p.m. The final hearing will be held Thursday, Sept. 18.
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