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State of the city
CPA says Seminole in good financial shape
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SEMINOLE – Mayor Leslie Waters gave her State of the City address at the April 8 Seminole Council meeting, following the 2013 comprehensive annual financial report from the city’s accounting firm, Wells, Houser & Schatzel, P.A.

And the city is in good financial shape, said Peter Schatzel from WHS.

“I am pleased to say that based upon the results of fiscal year 2013 and based upon the city’s previous financial condition, that the annual financial report does reflect that you are in fact in very sound financial condition at the end of fiscal year 2013,” he said.

The city’s general fund balance has enough to cover five months of city expenses in an emergency, he said, which is a “safe reserve.”

“I have found over the years that a lot of cities try to have at least three months,” Schatzel added. “I think three months is viewed as the minimum to have on hand. An average of three to six months is a good reserve to have on hand.”

This is an increase over previous years, he said. In 2012, this reserve would have covered 4.4 months of expenses, and 4.5 months the three years prior to that.

Schatzel also discussed the city’s firefighters’ pension fund. The fund had a $2.1 million increase in equity in fiscal year 2013, compared to $4.8 million the year before.

Part of this discrepancy can be explained by the number of lump-sum payouts, which totaled around $793,000, made to firefighters who left Seminole Fire Rescue. The city also spent $1.7 million on capital assets for the fire rescue company, including nearly $1 million on improvements made to Fire Station 30.

He also noted that in fiscal year 2013 the city paid off the last of the debt incurred to build the recreation center in 1999. Now, he said, the city has just one bond left, about $3.6 million, on two public works buildings built in 2005. This should be paid off by 2019 with Penny for Pinellas funds.

During her State of the City address, Mayor Waters gave an overview of what the city has accomplished so far in fiscal year 2013, which began in October.

Mayor Waters said the city’s revenue is expected to decrease 3.7 percent compared to last year, making fiscal year 2013 the sixth straight budget year of declining revenues and subsequent reduced expenditures.

“We’re hoping that 2015 brings stabilization to the budget,” she said.

She stressed, though, that unlike other cities facing similar financial strains following the 2008 recession, Seminole hasn’t had to reduce services offered or increase millage rates. In fact, she said, the city has one of the lowest property tax rates in Pinellas County.

She also said she set – and met – four major, personal goals for her first year in office: being accessible to local businesses, starting a citywide food drive, hosting regular “Meet the Mayor” forums, and teaching civic classes to children.

The city recently kicked off its first Citizens Academy, one of the council’s seven-year goals, which will be held every year moving forward.

And one of the highlights of the year so far has been the hiring of new Fire Chief Heather Burford, Mayor Waters said.

Construction will begin soon on the renovation of the former city hall in City Park. The multi-use facility will include rental space for the general public and the Historical Society’s planned museum.

Waterfront Park, which will be located on Long Bayou on Park Boulevard, next to Home Depot, also will become a reality this year, Mayor Waters said. The city has received around $200,000 in grants to redevelop the property into a city park with canoe and kayak access.

The redevelopment of 60 acres along Bay Pines is underway. This mixed-use development will include residential and commercial uses, and Mayor Waters said she’s hopeful the new owners of the Seminole Mall will announce their plans for that property this year.

“The future of Seminole looks bright,” she said.
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