LARGO – Largo city commissioners voted 6-1 Sept. 4 to tentatively approve a budget that includes a 7.3 percent property tax increase for the next fiscal year spurred by a continued shortfall in revenue.
Action taken by the commission would result in a tax rate of 4.9 mills. The current rate is 4.5 mills.
City budget manager Amy Davis said the increase in the millage will generate an additional $1 million revenue and is recommended to “prevent further budget reductions as well as service level reductions in future years.”
It will allow for some growth in property tax revenue because over the last five years there has been a cumulative taxable property value decline of 31 percent, she said.
“The city has either lowered or held the line of property taxes for the last five years,” she said.
In that time frame most of the other revenue sources have been declining, Davis said.
City officials said the tentative budget for fiscal year 2013 includes $2.5 million in operating budget reductions, the equivalent of 22.23 full-time positions deleted and no funding for employee raises.
Among the budget reductions are elimination of a grant administrator’s position, assistant to the city manager’s position, neighborhood coordinator’s position and three firefighters positions. Commissioners rejected a plan to eliminate the economic development director’s position.
Commissioner Harriet Crozier asked what was the city’s Finance Advisory Board’s position on the millage increase. Davis said the board supports it.
Commissioner Curtis Holmes, who voted against the proposed tax rate and budget, said he found it interesting that the city is spending more money on the Highland Aquatic Center than the Southwest Pool, even though the Highland center is open from May through September and Southwest is open year-round.
City Receation, Parks and Arts Director Joan Byrne said aquatics teams contribute to a lot of the costs at Southwest Pool, such as the West Florida Lightning Aquatics paying for the utility bill that heats and cools the pool year-round. That amount is about $40,000.
She also said that Highland Aquatic Center incurs some costs year-round, such as maintaining equipment and chemicals.
Commissioners commended staff for their work on the proposed budget for another tough fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Only a few residents spoke at the public hearings.
Geoff Moakley, who is a sharp critic of city spending, complained about increased vacation benefits.
“How many Largo citizens receive three weeks vacation at five year service?” he asked. “Private industry can’t afford these huge accesses,” he said.
Kathy Feaster spoke in support of the budget.
She said “every year we seem to be going down the same path of clawing and fighting our way to get you to understand the importance of recreation and the arts.”
“This department is not just for leisure. It’s an economic development tool that does provide funds to the city,” she said.
The second and final hearings on the budget are set for Thursday, Sept. 20, at City Hall.