CLEARWATER — The city’s total operating budget is actually going down in 2019-2020.
The City Council approved the $542.2 million budget, which represents a 1 percent decrease from last year’s operating budget of $547.1 million, on Sept. 19. The fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
The 2019-2020 capital budget, which pays for large construction projects, equipment purchases, and other large items, is set at $95.1 million, a slight decrease from last year’s capital improvement fund of $96.8 million.
The general fund, which pays for the city’s salaries and daily operations, is increasing by about 1 percent, to about $152 million, city budget figures show. Last year the general fund was $150.9 million.
Nevertheless, according to Kaylee Kastel, the city’s budget manager, property taxes are going up because home values went up.
Taxable home values are up
“Taxable home values in Clearwater rose by a total of 6.8 percent in 2019, which includes the value of new construction and annexations,” Kastel said. “The city is proposing to keep the millage rate the same for the upcoming budget year at 5.955 mills levied against each $1,000 of taxable value. Properties with homestead exemption are limited to assessed value growth of 1.9 percent.”
Using the example of $100,000 in taxable value on a homesteaded property in 2018, the assessed value could increase to $101,900 in 2019, she said. City taxes, in this example, would be $606.81, an increase of $11.31 from 2018.
Here’s a breakdown from the city’s 2019-2020 budget.
When Pinellas County homeowners — including Clearwater property owners — pay their property taxes, the revenue is divvied up among several big agencies. According to city budget figures, most of the property tax Clearwater homeowners pay, 32 percent, will go to the Pinellas School Board; 30 percent goes to Pinellas County government; 29 percent to the city of Clearwater, and the rest, 9 percent, goes to other local agencies.
Allocations from the general fund
Here is how the city’s $152 million general fund it is expected to be spent, by department:
• The police department gets 29.5 percent.
• Parks and recreation gets 21 percent.
• Clearwater Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services, 19 percent.
• Nine percent will go to administrative salaries and costs.
• Seven percent goes to miscellaneous or non-departmental costs.
• Four percent goes to the planning and development department.
• Engineering gets 5.5 percent.
• The city library system gets 5 percent.
The preponderance of general fund spending, 62 percent, goes to paying employee salaries and other labor costs; operating expenses are next, at 15 percent; followed by internal service, at 13 percent. Internal service funds are used to account for goods or services provided by employees within the city to other city divisions. Services include IT, fleet maintenance, building and maintenance. The other 10 percent in the general fund goes to inter-fund transfers, debt and capital.
Council approves Penny for Pinellas list
The City Council also approved changes to the city’s Penny for Pinellas capital projects at its Sept. 5 meeting. Kastel broke down those changes for the council just before the vote. Fiscal year 2020 marks the final budgeting under Penny for Pinellas III and the start of Penny IV. The penny tax program was approved by voters on Election Day in 2017.
According to Kastel, one big change to the list was the addition of $6.5 million toward Imagine Clearwater, which will see the construction of a new Coachman Park, the development of the bluff above it, and the revitalization of downtown.
In addition to Imagine Clearwater, the council approved $6 million for a District 3 substation for the police department. Police Chief Dan Slaughter told the council at a special Aug. 22 budget hearing that the department’s buildings, including its headquarters at 645 Pierce St., cannot withstand strong hurricane winds.
The proposed 20,000-square-foot substation will be equipped with offices, training classrooms, and new gun ranges inside a building that can withstand Category 5 winds, the kind of storm that flattened buildings in the Abaco Islands over Labor Day. The funding will be realized over several years, Kastel said.
Parking garage off the list
A new downtown parking garage — scheduled to cost $10.5 million over 2025-27 — has been eliminated from the Penny for Pinellas project list. The move frees the money up for other construction, such as the police substation and Imagine Clearwater. Instead, the city will use parking revenues to pay for the garage, which would be built downtown.
The list also reduced, by $1 million, funds to replace aging fire engines and ladder trucks at the Clearwater Fire Department. However, it adds a replacement schedule ladder truck in 2020, a year earlier than originally scheduled, in 2021. The program also allowed one fire engine to be replaced in fiscal year 2023.
The project list also postponed, from 2020 to 2023, an aviation operations center project at Clearwater Airpark on Hercules Avenue, Kastel said. The airpark, which has had security issues for years, has already received money to pay for a new guard shack at the entrance to the airfield, said Marine and Aviation Director Ed Chesney.
Ed C. Wright park to get renovation
The final change Kastel mentioned on the Penny for Pinellas capital project list was a transfer of funds within the parks and recreation department. The department is shifting $260,000 to finish improvements at Ed C. Wright Park at 1326 South Martin L. King Jr. Ave. The land was donated by Wright in 1964 and officially dedicated on Jan. 14, 1965.
The Penny for Pinellas IV list of approved projects is funded through the yearly collection of the special tax between now and 2030. The totals for each project represent what will be spent over that time span. For instance, the Penny IV approved list includes $22 million for the eventual replacement of Sand Key Bridge, $20 million for utilities infrastructure between now and fiscal 2030, $7.6 million for fire engines and ladder trucks until 2030, and so on.
Other approved projects include $15 million for the overhaul of Clearwater Beach Marina, which will be re-engineered from the pilings to the utility pipes. Special software will design the size and shape of the slips and plans call for the replacement and improvement of the seawall, pilings, docks, and other facilities.
The list sets aside money that will eventually be spent on such projects as $2.5 million for bicycle paths and recreation trails, $1.75 million for new police vehicles, $1.5 million for a public safety vehicle and equipment facility, and $12.3 million for a new public works complex.