CLEARWATER — There’s no need for a property tax rate increase next year, according to the city’s budget and planning staff.
The preliminary overall 2020 budget — which the City Council will begin debating Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. — is set at $542.2 million, a $10.2 million increase from last year. A cover letter from City Manager William Horne accompanying the proposed budget indicates he’d like to keep the millage rate at 5.955, the same as 2018-2019.
One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.
As part of the proposed budget, prepared by Clearwater Budget Manager Kayleen Kastel, the city would spend $152 million for the general fund in 2020, a 3 percent increase from last year’s $148.1 million general fund budget.
The general fund pays for such city services as police, fire and parks, as well as planning, community development and administrative support services.
“I haven’t really done a deep dive into the budget yet,” said Clearwater Mayor George N. Cretekos. “The majority of dollars will go to salaries. We have an agreement with police and fire locked up for the next couple of years, so we have that number settled.”
Several unknowns will have to become clear before the budget can be finalized, Cretekos said, including how much money the city may have to spend for the Phillies’ spring training program. The city has asked Pinellas County to kick in money from the bed tax fund to help pay for $40 million in improvements to Spectrum Field and the Carpenter Complex of four baseball fields, training facilities, and offices. What the county and state don’t throw in may have to come from city coffers. The Phillies’ presence has been a tremendous financial boon for the city for many years, the mayor argued.
“By doing this, we would sign an extension for another 25 years,” Cretekos said. “They have been in Clearwater since 1948.”
The city also will have to nail down the cost of demolishing downtown lots and other groundwork for Imagine Clearwater, a massive project designed to revitalize Coachman Park and the downtown. The true costs won’t be known until the city bids out the work and hires contractors.
In addition to Imagine Clearwater and what it may cost to modernize the Phillies’ facilities, the city plans to adjust city staff salaries.
Implementing a salary study in 2019 that adjusted city staff salaries to “ensure the city is providing competitive compensation” will lead to a 4 percent pay increase across all city operations, Horne said in his cover letter. The salary adjustments increased the general fund budget by $1.6 million, city figures show.
“We just did a wage analysis, so there are some changes we’re going to have to make to be fair to our employees,” Cretekos said. “And there are certain things to go up; when your electric bill goes up, our electric bill goes up. Fuel expenses, things like that.”
Horne wrote: “With major resource investments in Imagine Clearwater and the financial requirement to retain the Phillies, our focus must be on reducing ongoing operational costs and future capital costs in order to truly achieve financial sustainability. As the city looks toward the future, we need to continue to be strategic; carefully weighing citizen expectations against financial impacts, both positive and negative.”
The first public hearing on the tentative millage rate and operating and capital budgets is planned for the evening of Sept. 5 at 6 p.m. The final millage rate and budget will be adopted at the second and final hearing on Sept. 19.