INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – City commissioners unanimously agreed Sept. 4 to lower the tax rate slightly for the next fiscal year.

The rate, adopted after one of two public hearings, will be set at 1.8 mills, equivalent to $1.80 for every $1,000 of assessed property value. The current rate is 1.9 mills.

The new rate will allow the city to collect more than $2 million in property taxes. The rate is the fifth lowest in Pinellas County, where some tax rates are as high as 6.7 mills.

The ordinance approving the tax rate sailed through without comment from commissioners, but ordinance approving the budget didn’t go quite as smoothly.

Commissioner Phil Wrobel wanted the commission to consider giving City Clerk Deanne Bulino O’Reilly a raise, the same 3 percent raise that other city employees got in the new budget.

The issue of O’Reilly’s raise was discussed at length at a recent workshop meeting, and it was decided she would not get a raise because her salary was among the highest in the county, especially for a city with the relatively small population of around 4,000.

O’Reilly, who has been with the city for 25 years, makes just over $86,000 a year.

At the earlier meeting, commissioners commented that the salary was well above what a new employee would make and because of lengthy absences O’Reilly should not get a raise this year.

When Wrobel revisited the issue at the latest meeting, he said seniority has to count for something.

“I think a loyal employee deserves to be recognized,” he said. “I am in favor of giving her a 3 percent raise like all the other employees.”

Commissioner Ed Hoofnagle, noting that O’Reilly’s salary ranked high in the county, wondered if instead of a raise she could be given a bonus, thus keeping her base salary from going up.

City Attorney Randy Mora said state law makes it difficult to give bonuses to city employees.

Mayor Cookie Kennedy, who was not in favor of giving O’Reilly a raise, listed the salaries of other city clerks in the county.

“Pinellas Park, $104,000; Clearwater $99,000; Redington Beach, $92,500; Largo $91,500; South Pasadena, $89,000; Gulfport, $88,000 and IRB, $86,000,” she said.

Kennedy noted that all except Redington Beach and South Pasadena had populations over 25,000 and in Redington Beach the position also included the job of finance director.

Kennedy made it clear she was not in favor of a raise; Wrobel said he was in favor of the raise. With O’Reilly in the room only a few feet away from commissioners there was a lengthy, uneasy silence as the remaining three considered their options.

Commissioner Phil Hanna broke the silence when he said he would support a raise but with conditions.

“I’ll stand by what I said at the last meeting,” he said. “There were a lot of absences in the past, whether health related or not. I don’t have any problem rewarding anyone who does their job. I’m willing to bend this time but I want to send a word of caution for the future.”

With that, Commissioners Hoofnagle and Nick Palomba agreed that O’Reilly will get a raise.

Pickleball courts

The other discussion about the budget centered on the construction of pickle ball courts in Kolb Park.

City Manager Gregg Mims said there was money in the budget to build the courts.

“It is the fastest growing sport in the United States,” he said.

Resident Ira Heshmati urged commissioners to make sure the courts were built.

“It is the game of the future,” he said. “Anybody can play it and the courts are low maintenance. Now is the time to build them.”

Diane Flagg was another supporter of the courts.

“I am a fanatic of the sport,” she said. “I want to thank the city for being so proactive and doing lots of things to keep people active in our community. We really want those courts in Kolb Park.”

In talking about the budget, Mims noted that feedback from several residents gave him some guidance in finalizing the budget. He said the city has no debt and has $2.6 million in reserve.

He noted that city expenditures in the year ahead exceeded last year’s expenditures by only $7,000.

The next and final special meeting for second reading of both the millage rate and the budget will be on Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 7 p.m.