BELLEAIR — The town might find itself with a budget surplus next year.
But the operative word is “might.”
Town Manager J.P. Murphy told the Town Commission at its meeting June 15 that revenue hikes due to new development along with increases in property values could mean a budget surplus even if the current millage rate of 6.5 is maintained.
But Murphy said later that he was merely “cautiously optimistic” about a surplus, saying the revenue figures were “very preliminary.”
“Right now, we’re showing what is initially a budget surplus based on estimates, but my spidey sense tingles a little bit on that because we’ve never gone into a budget year where there weren’t more expenses than revenue,” Murphy said. “We really don’t see solid numbers until mid-July.
“I believe it, but I don’t believe it.”
Murphy said the factors driving the revenue increases are a property value increase of 8% and an overall 4.31% increase in value of new construction. The new construction increase is second only to St. Petersburg, he said.
Other drivers include renovations at the private Pelican Golf Club and the construction and opening of the Belleview Inn.
In any event, the preliminary numbers are good news for the town after the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We were really concerned last year about loss of state sales tax revenue, but the state of Florida had a better rebound than other states and that’s really helpful,” he said.
Murphy said that the highly preliminary numbers indicating a surplus would allow the commission to maintain the millage rate of 6.5 for the third year in a row and still have a surplus. The commission will decide a “not to exceed” millage rate on July 20.
Mayor Mike Wilkinson was also cautious about planning for a surplus.
“I think it’s preliminary,” Wilkinson said. “We’re still waiting on premium hikes for employee health insurance and property and casualty insurance rates. The state also hasn’t given us their revenue expectations, which could be a factor, but the state tax on online sales could generate more revenue and that could be good news.”
Wilkinson said while he prefers to be optimistic about the possibility of a surplus, he remained tentative.
“Although it’s preliminary, I’m not saying I wouldn’t mind it,” he said. “I’m a taxpayer, too, and I want the highest revenue we can get.”
The lengthy and detailed 2021-2022 budget process ends with budget adoption on Sept. 21.
Waste pickup changes considered
The town also faces the possibility of making changes to its curbside waste pickup. A draft report by Kessler Consulting Inc. said the town could benefit financially if it purchased an automatic side-loaded truck and hired an operator to operate it.
Meanwhile, the town faces a decision over whether to continue curbside recycling as part of its waste pickup. Chas Jordan, of Kessler Consulting, told the commission that China, the world’s largest buyer of recycled material, has slowed or stopped purchasing recycled material worldwide.
Wilkinson said that means Belleair will face a choice on whether or not to continue recycling.
“There’s just a big rate differential,” Wilkinson said. “China is not buying recycling anymore and it has become more expensive to recycle.”
Wilkinson said it costs about $40 a ton for trash pickup, but $125 a ton for recycling.
“Everyone wants to recycle but we’re not sure all of it is being recycled and it costs us more,” he said. “We have to make a decision about that.”
The commission was also presented with a report from ABM Inc. saying the town will save $27,628 in the first year of an energy conservation program that included lighting, building and HVAC improvements.