BELLEAIR — The Town of Belleair Commission voted unanimously to maintain the current maximum millage rate of 6.5 for the 2021-2022 town budget, with hopes that a small surplus will lead to more funding for infrastructure and public safety.
“We’re definitely surprised but not shocked,” Mayor Mike Wilkinson said of the surplus. “There’s going to be a small surplus when everything is reconciled. I’m mildly surprised but the staff and the commission try to be good stewards of our revenues and expenses. We’re definitely pleased. All of us are residents too.”
Town Manager JP Murphy said that the surplus would occur even with salary adjustments. But he added that the town is also still waiting to see what state aid might also be available. He expected that information would arrive in a few weeks.
By a state law known Truth in Millage (TRIM), the town cannot exceed the maximum millage rate set by the commission. The millage rate represents taxes levied on real property. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value, meaning, for example, that property worth $100,000 would be levied $650 under the maximum millage rate for Belleair.
Both Wilkinson and Murphy said the budget focus would be on infrastructure and public safety.
Those have been priorities “in every budget,” Murphy said.
Murphy added that it was unlikely that the commission would lower the maximum millage rate in the next budget.
“I think we’re going to be stable with the current millage rate,” Murphy said. “Our commission likes to keep the millage rate as stable as possible and not have it yo-yo, especially when we have significant capital concerns. Whatever growth we see is offset by building roads and infrastructure.”
State law mandates that communities set maximum millage rates as part of the budget process. Once the maximum millage rate is set it cannot be exceeded. Setting the maximum millage rate is the first step in the budget process. Rates are officially set in September. At least four public hearings will be held before the commission approves the final budget.
In other action, the commission approved a measure to keep the gas franchise fee at 5.5 percent.
The commission agreed to extend to a 15-year gas franchise contract with Clearwater Gas and Water for natural gas and propane to 573 Belleair customers. Clearwater Gas and Water pays the town $22,000 a year for the franchise, which is used for town infrastructure. Belleair first entered into a contract with Clearwater Gas and Water in 1990.