PINELLAS PARK – The Pinellas Park City Council agreed to set the city tax rate about 3 percent higher this year, allowing the city to collect a similar amount in property tax revenue despite a 1.9 percent decrease in citywide property value.
The proposed tax rate for the upcoming fiscal year is 5.5862 mills, or about $5.59 for every $1,000 in taxable property value. Council decided to tentatively increase the current rate of 5.4269 mills at the recommendation of staff and the citizens’ budget advisory committee during a workshop July 24.
The final decision on the budget and tax rate depends on the council’s vote during upcoming public hearings on Thursdays, Sept. 9 and 23. The hearings will allow Pinellas Park residents and business owners to voice their opinion on the proposed budget and tax rate.
The increase, called a “rollback rate,” is calculated so that the city collects the same amount of property tax revenue, irregardless of citywide loss in property value. However, because the rollback rate doesn’t include taxable values for new construction and new annexations, the city will actually collect slightly more in property tax revenue compared to this year’s budgeted revenue.
The city budgeted $13,260,964 in property tax revenue for the general fund, only about $25,000 more than last year.
Councilman Ed Taylor asked if the tax rate increase would end up costing some taxpayers “a little bit more.” Budget administrator Dan Katsiyiannis explained that by nature of the rollback design, most residents wouldn’t notice a difference from last year.
“And if it did cost them anything, because there are obviously a lot of different situations and scenarios that can take place, the amount of the cost would be nominal,” he said.
“Ten bucks,” Taylor suggested.
“Less than that,” Katsiyiannis countered.
Katsiyiannis also reminded council that while they could decide to decrease the tax rate, they could not increase it past the tentative rate set
Even with the tax rate increase, the city is budgeted to use about $1.5 million from its general fund reserves this year. The remaining reserves still will represent 27 percent of the general fund budget, well above the recommended percentage.
The budget also includes an increase in monthly stormwater fees. The city has been running a deficit, collecting about $600,000 from fees, but spending $1.2 million to maintain stormwater services in the city, according to budget documentation.
Under the proposed budget, residents in single family homes would pay $4 a month instead of $2, while residents behind a master meter would pay $2 instead of $1 a month. The increases also address the disparity in the fees structure between residential and commercial and industrial properties, which already pay $4 a month.
“The stormwater, that is significant. I don’t know any way around it,” Taylor said, anticipating a public outcry to the increase. “Everybody needs a little more right now.”
With a “soft hiring freeze” still in effect, as it has been since early 2007, the city made several changes to personnel, including the restructuring of the human resources department and four divisions within public works. The changes amounted to an overall decrease of one full-time position, which will save the city about $100,000 annually, according to budget documentation.
“Further reductions in operating expenditures are not achievable without eliminating some major programs,” Katsiyiannis stated in the introduction of the budget draft.
The council did suggest changes to the city’s grants, requesting an overall increase of $21,000 given to charitable organizations. Councilman Rick Butler asked that the amount given to both Pinellas Hope, the homeless shelter often called Tent City, and Safe Harbor, the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office homeless shelter and inmate reentry program, increase from the budgeted $25,000 to $35,000. He also suggested that the grant supplied to Vincent House, a job and rehabilitation program for adults with mental illnesses, increase to $2,000,
His fellow council members in attendance agreed.
The budget hearings on Sept. 9 and 23 will be held at 7:30 p.m., at City Hall, 5141 78th Ave. N.
Davis Field redevelopment project denied
During its public meeting July 28, the council unanimously sided with the Davis Field neighborhood residents who did not want a 1.5 acre property at 7755 62nd Way divided into seven lots instead of five. The plan had also called for a residential planned unit development overlay, which would have allowed the developer more flexibility and less city oversight.
While the owner argued that the five lots hadn’t sold because they were too large, residents said they didn’t want an overdeveloped property to attract more blight to their neighborhood.
Butler pointed out that the council has already allowed the property to change from the original seven lots to five and expressed a hope that the owner would build five houses on the property without asking the council for any more changes.