CLEARWATER – The good news is that Clearwater’s real estate tax rate next year will be the same as it has been for the past four years.
The bad news is that some homeowners will pay slightly more in taxes than they paid this year because as the Great Recession fades into memory, the market value – and thus the taxable value - of their homes has gone up.
But that news isn’t entirely bad because it also means that they are likely to get more for their homes if they put them on the market.
At a second and final reading on Sept. 19, the Clearwater City Council unanimously approved Budget Director Tina Wilson’s recommendation that the millage rate for the upcoming fiscal year remain unchanged at 5.16 mills. A mill is defined as one dollar of tax for each $1,000 of the home’s taxable value. But Clearwater’s share is only approximately 24 percent of the 21.4949 mills that Clearwater homeowners will be required to pay to the county.
Clearwater’s millage rate represents a 3.05 percent increase from the rollback rate of 5.0023 mills. The rollback rate is the rate a city, county or other taxing entity would have to charge to obtain the same property tax income as it got the previous year. It varies as property values change and is mainly a planning tool for budget directors and of little interest to taxpayers.
“For the most part, the proposed operating budget is very similar to the current 2012-13 operating budget, providing sustained current operation and service levels,” City Manager Bill Horne wrote in a June 12 letter to the council. “The only new initiative in this budget of any significance is the proposed addition of the new police officer positions to provide needed support at Clearwater Beach, where there is enhanced tourism and beach activity.”
The council also unanimously approved an ordinance “adopting an operating budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, 2013 and ending Sept. 30, 2014, authorizing the city manager to issue such instructions that are necessary to achieve and accomplish the service programs so authorized” and to “transfer monies and programs” among city departments as needed to achieve those goals.
The overall budget, comprised of the operating budget and the capital improvement budget, will be $375 million next year. That’s a slight decrease from the $386 million in this year’s overall budget.
The general fund budget will increase from $113 million this year to $115 million next year. Fifty-three percent of that goes to public safety items such as the police and fire departments, 24 percent goes to “quality of life” items such as the parks and recreation department, 7 percent goes for engineering, 4 percent goes for planning and development, and 12 percent is spent on administration.
The largest fund in the operating budget, “utility” will jump from $139 million this year to $142 million next year. An increase in the police department’s budget, from $35.7 million to $36.3 million, will be offset be offset by decreasing the fire department’s budget from its current $24.4 million to $23.9 million next year. The parks and recreation department will get a slight raise in its budget, from $21 million to $21.1 million, as will the city’s library system, from $5.8 million to $5.9 million.