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Dunedin plans no increase in tax rate
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DUNEDIN – The city’s tax rate remains at 4.13 mills under the proposed $166.4 million city budget as increased property values bring in more revenue.

Interim City Manager Doug Hutchens said in the executive summary of the budget that the growth in the city’s taxable value, 9.71 percent, and that of the community redevelopment district, 25.8 percent, exceeded rates seen in most other municipalities as well as the county as a whole.

Hutchens said there are many factors on the horizon that will have a lasting impact on the city and its financial future. The most significant event will be the appointment of a new city manager this summer.

“New leadership, vision, and priorities from executive management will likely spur several new initiatives and may alter current funding priorities,” Hutchens wrote.

Also in his budget highlights, Hutchens noted the city started a one-year paid and complimentary parking management system in October.

At the end of the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2017, which is September, staff will present results of the program and make a recommendation regarding the continuance of it to the City Commission.

If the commission decides to discontinue the paid component of the parking management program, alternative funding sources will need to be identified to pay for the lease and maintenance costs of 215 spaces in a private parking structure expected to be operational in December.

“In addition, the ultimate goal is to build a second parking structure when needed, to meet the parking needs of the downtown as existing lots leased by the city are sold and redeveloped,” he wrote.

In other highlights, Hutchens said fiscal year 2018 revenues in all funds will exceed fiscal year 2017 revenues by more than 200 percent. The most significant factor is $76 million in debt proceeds for the reconstruction of the Toronto Blue Jays spring training facilities at Florida Auto Exchange Stadium and the Englebert Complex. An additional $24 million in debt processed is expected for the design and construction of a water treatment plant project.

Hutchens also discussed two major ballot issues that will influence the city and its ability to continue operations and current service levels: the Nov. 7, 2017, referendum on the extension of Penny for Pinellas, and the Nov. 6, 2018, referendum on the proposed $25,000 homestead exemption.

The city receives about $3.6 million annually from the penny tax, which is used to build and improve city facilities and infrastructure. Should the tax not be renewed, funding for future capital projects would be significantly impacted, Hutchens said.

If the sales tax measure is approved, the city budget will be amended to include design of a new emergency operations and fire training center, at $101,000, and design of the new city hall, $1 million.

Voter approval of the homestead exemption would result in the loss of more than $500,000 in property taxes as well as reduced revenues that are passed through the county, such as library and fire service revenues.

The only way to mitigate the effect of the measure would be to increase the millage rate to raise the same amount of property tax revenue, Hutchens said.

The budget includes programmed rate increases for stormwater, solid waste and water/wastewater services as follows:

• Stormwater – increase in equivalent residential unit rate of 4.5 percent.

• Solid waste – increase in residential and commercial rates of 5 percent.

• Water/wastewater – increase in unit charge of 4.75 percent.

The proposed pay plan includes 3 percent merit increases for all general employees. A merit increase of 3.5 percent is proposed for all unionized fire department employees.

Despite the need to address additional staffing needs, revenues are not strong enough to support the additional recurring expense of new personnel, Hutchens said.

The budget includes the equivalent of the addition of 1.25 employees. A total of 359.16 employees is projected.

Fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, marks the fifth consecutive year of growth in the city's gross taxable value, but only the first year that estimated property tax revenues will reach to pre-recession levels.

The city’s Finance Board presented a detailed report to city officials on the proposed budget,

expressing concerns about the ability of the city to fund desired and needed projects and programs.

“While the next year should bring clarity to the Penny Fund and the Blue Jays project, new uncertainty is being injected by the proposed increase to the homestead exemption that will reduce ad valorem collections. Strategic cost cutting and reasonable tax increases will be required to keep Dunedin the way we want it to be for our residents and visitors,” the board said in a memo.

The current tax rate of 4.13 mills is equivalent to $4.13 for every $1,000 of property tax value.

City commissioners held lengthy budget sessions with department heads July 6 and 7.

The first public hearing on the tentative tax rate and budget is set for Sept. 7 and the final haring is set for Sept. 21.

Raises slated for city commissioners, mayor

For the first time in about 20 years, the commissioners will be getting raises totaling $19,000 with the budget approval.

The raises in the proposed budget for commissioners and mayor was recommend by the Dunedin Charter Review Committee.

The mayor’s salary would be increased from $10,000 to $15,000 annually and the commission’s would increase from $8,000 to $11,500.

Commissioners and the mayor supported the raise July 6, citing their increased workload, the amount of complex issues and the need to encourage people to run for the office.

“I’m not going to say it’s 40 hours a week. I’d say we spend a lot more,” Commissioner Deborah Kynes said. “And that’s the truth.”

She was concerned that commission’s current salaries might be discouraging people who have children and full time jobs from running. Other commissioners made similar comments.

Former Mayor Tom Anderson encouraged the commission to approve the raises, saying he spoke to 50 people who were in favor of the officials getting the increase.

“I didn’t hear from one person who was in opposition to it,” Anderson said.

Tom Germond is editor of the Dunedin Beacon. He can be reached at 727-397-5563, ext. 330, or by email at tgermond@TBNweekly.com.
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