TREASURE ISLAND — In an effort to help residents who might be financially struggling as a result of the pandemic, city commissioners Sept. 3 voted to delay a property tax increase this next fiscal year.
The 0.1 mill increase, which would cost the average homeowner about $50, was slated to pay for future improvements to the Treasure Island Causeway Bridge.
Commissioners unanimously adopted on first reading a tax rate of 3.6192 mills, rather than proposed rate of 3.7129 mills. A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value minus exemptions.
A consultant report advised city officials to set aside 0.5 mills a year to fund future capital improvements to the Causeway Bridge over the next 10 years. The city has raised the suggested amount incrementally, at a rate of one-tenth of a mill each fiscal year, with the special bridge fund currently up to 0.3 mills; another one-tenth of a mill was slated to be added in the coming fiscal year, edging city coffers closer to the suggested amount.
However, the vote to adopt a rate of 3.7129 would require a supermajority commission approval, since it exceeds the majority vote for adopting the maximum property tax rate.
During budget hearings, it became apparent that there were not enough votes for the higher tax rate to be adopted, after commissioners questioned whether this was an appropriate time to raise property taxes.
In ensuing weeks, Finance Director Amy Davis and City Manager Garry Brumback worked to balance a budget with a reduced millage rate, while still preparing for an expected revenue shortfall during the coming fiscal year.
Davis noted, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office, the city’s estimated property value increased by 6.14 % this fiscal year; that means to collect the same amount of revenue that Treasure Island collected last year it could adopt a rollback millage rate of 3.4255 mills. Adopting a rate of 3.6192 mills could offset an expected revenue decline of an estimated $500,000 next fiscal year, caused by the COVID crisis impacting sales tax, bed taxes and other revenue sources. However, the 0.1 mill dedicated for Causeway Bridge repairs will have to wait until next year to be funded.
Commissioner Tyler Payne thanked staff for addressing his “concern with raising the millage rate this year in the midst of the COVID crisis. I don’t want that to undervalue the tremendous work our finance team and city manager did to have a very, very, fiscally conservative budget. I really appreciate the amount of effort you guys have done to make sure we are not wastefully spending in any areas.”
He added, even so, he still received a lot of feedback from constituents that this was not the right time to raise taxes.
“When it gets down to it, at the individual basis of the homeowner most people will only be impacted by $50 or so, I still received a lot of feedback that people don’t think this is the time to raise taxes,” he said. “Thank you for considering an alternative to keep millage rate flat as it was in past years.”
Commissioner Saleene Partridge echoed those sentiments, telling staff “thank you for hearing what our constituents were asking for. The city was so receptive and so creative at looking at things (in the budget). I know, after you look at it over and over, to look at it again can be taxing, but you did it so professionally and so willingly to respond to what we were bringing forward.”
“It goes to show what a great collaborative relationship we have. We were able to come up with a good plan I really appreciate it as well,” Partridge added.
Mayor Larry Lunn noted staff gave up any increase in salary and he appreciates their “cooperation in tightening the budget.”
Davis said when it comes to Causeway Bridge replacement costs, “the currently committed .3 mills is enough to get us over to the next year.” The amount collected will have to eventually reach 0.5 mills each year to amass enough savings to cover costs in future years.
The city will hold a final hearing to adopt its millage rate on Tuesday, Sept. 15 at 6 p.m.
Commissioner suggests chamber funding should be shared
During the budget hearing, Payne suggested the city divide the $5,000 it gives the Treasure Island-Madeira Beach Chamber of Commerce in half, with $2,500 also donated to the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber of Commerce.
The Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber “does a lot of work on the entire stretch of the Gulf beaches. I’d like to foster our relationship with them by splitting the $5,000; they both do good work attracting tourists and we should partner with both.”
He added the Tampa Bay Beaches Chamber has a wider reach.
Board members agreed with Partridge who said she would like to receive more information on what the city gets from each chamber, before making a decision at the Sept. 15 meeting.
Redesign of City Hall could be completed by next September
By September of next year, transformation of the former Allied Building into a City Hall Center could be completed.
“It’s been a challenge to redesign an area that is an existing space, but we think we have met the objectives of creating a flexible, but also efficient work environment, (while) also creating a space that our community wants to frequent; that was a big factor that we focused in on during the design,” Assistant Public Works Director Stacy Boyles said.
Design of the new City Hall will include renovating the exterior of the building and the ground floor; the creation of a second-floor lobby, commission chambers and offices for community development; and a third floor with offices and conference rooms that will allow staff and public works employees to work together in one facility. The fifth floor would be designed as a community recreation center that could be rented as a revenue producer.
Redesign of the fourth floor will wait until the city assesses future needs. Renderings will be provided to the commission in November. Completion of construction documents will be presented in January, with construction scheduled to begin March and completed in September.
“The overall goal is for the facility to serve as a central hub of the city by providing public space that is assessable, functional and will become a source of pride,” Boyles said.
City commissioners approved a plan to complete the project in one phase.
Commissioner Deborah Toth told commissioners the Gulf Beaches Library offered the city a 10% reduction in its proposed membership costs. She asked staff to provide an accounting of how many residents utilize St. Pete Beach’s Library and Gulf Beaches Library. It was recently confirmed that the city was testing the waters of joining into a partnership with the St. Pete Beach Library rather than Gulf Beaches in September 2021.