Pinellas County’s budgets and millage rates get initial nod

Pinellas County Commissioner Dave Eggers encouraged the Office of Management and Budget to remain conservative about future spending during the first public hearing on millage rates and budgets Sept. 12.

CLEARWATER — No one from the public commented during the first hearing Sept. 12 to approve Pinellas County’s tentative millage rates and budgets for fiscal year 2019-2020.

Commissioners unanimously approved the countywide millage rate of 5.2755 mills, which has been the same since fiscal year 2014, and the Health Department millage rate of 0.0835, unchanged since 2018.

Commissioner Janet Long was absent.

The approved tentative rate is higher than the rolled-back rate of 5.0695 mills and will bring in a 5.71% increase in revenue.

The rolled-back rate is the rate required to generate the same revenue as the current year. However, staff says it is not sufficient to generate enough funds to pay for expenses in the coming fiscal year.

In a separate vote, as required by law, commissioners unanimously approved millage rates for the municipal services taxing unit (MSTU), which is unincorporated Pinellas. That rate has been the same since 2009. Approval also was given for millage rates in dependent special districts. The approved rates are as follows.

• Emergency Medical Services Authority: 0.9158 mills; rolled-back rate, 0.8585; revenue increase, 6.67%.

• Pinellas Planning Council: 0.0150 mills; rolled-back rate, 0.0141; revenue increase, 6.38%.

• MSTU: 2.0857 mills; rolled-back rate 1.9834; revenue increase, 5.16%.

• Public Library Services District: 0.5 mills; rolled-back rate, 0.4733; revenue increase, 5.64%.

• Palm Harbor Community Services: 0.5 mills; rolled-back rate, 04722; revenue increase, 5.89%.

• Feather Sound Community Services: 0.7 mills; rolled-back rate, 0.6641; revenue increase, 5.41%.

• East Lake Library Services, 0.25 mills; rolled-back rate, 0.2402; revenue increase, 4.08%.

• East Lake Recreation Services, 0.25 mills; rolled-back rate, 0.2402; revenue increase, 4.08%.

Fire Districts

• Belleair Bluffs: 1.6227 mills; rolled-back rate, 1.6448; revenue decrease, 1.34%.

• Clearwater: 2.9775 mills; rolled-back rate, 2.9728; revenue increase, 0.16%.

• Dunedin: 2.7031 mills; rolled-back rate, 2.7251; revenue decrease, 0.81%.

• Gandy: 1.20 mills; rolled-back rate, 2.1903; revenue decrease, 45.21%

• High Point: 2.67 mills; rolled-back rate, 2.4960; revenue increase, 6.97%.

• Largo: 3.3179 mills; rolled-back rate, 3.3518; revenue decrease, 1.01%.

• Pinellas Park: 3.1976 mills; rolled-back rate, 3.0146; revenue increase, 6.07%.

• Safety Harbor: 2.6743 mills; rolled-back rate, 2.6731; revenue increase, 0.04%.

• Seminole: 1.9581 mills; rolled-back rate, 1.8299; revenue increase, 7.01%.

• South Pasadena: 0.45 mils; rolled-back rate, 0.8587; revenue decrease, 47.60%.

• Tarpon Springs: 2.3745 mills; rolled-back rate, 2.2359; revenue increase, 6.20%.

• Tierra Verde: 1.9118 mills; rolled-back rate, 1.8391; revenue increase, 3.95%

Note: Some of the fire district’s millage rates decreased and some are below the rolled-back rate.

2019-2020 budgets

Commissioners also gave unanimous approval to a budget of more than $2.4 billion, which is $29.3 million more than the current year. The General Fund budget increased by $28.4 million. The reserves fund is at $105.9 million, which is 16.6%. By Board policy, reserves must be at 15%.

Some of the changes made to the budget since the last discussion, include a reduction in revenue to the Gandy and South Pasadena fire districts, due to lower millage rates. Money was included to pay for the county’s share for the Cross Bay Ferry, THC testing as requested by the medical examiner and lease repayment for purchase of the mid-county tax collector office.

Money also was included for a sign on the Emergency Services Building in Largo, which will be named in honor of the late commissioner John Morroni. Other revenue increases and decreases occurred, as the Office of Management and Budget finalized budget figures.

Commissioner Dave Eggers questioned the director of the Office of Management and Budget, Bill Berger, about the county increasing its budget as property values increased. He encouraged Berger to remain conservative about future spending.

Berger said staff projects future revenue based on inflationary indexes, which are variable.

“We’ll be OK as long as we don’t implement more spending programs,” he said, adding, “We can’t continue at this pace.”

Eggers also brought up concerns by the public about increasing rates for garbage services. The county is increasing its solid waste tipping fees for the first time in years. There is concern about how the private haulers are passing on that cost to their customers, which is not something the county can control.

Eggers also questioned increases in personnel, adding that he would not want to lay off people due to a downturn in the economy. Berger said the majority of the new positions were contracted positions that were being converted to county employees. He said the number of new employees was less than a dozen.

The second and final budget hearing is scheduled on Tuesday, Sept. 24, 6 p.m., in the fifth floor Assembly Room at the Pinellas County Courthouse, 315 Court St., Clearwater.

For more information on the budget, visit www.pinellascounty.org/budget/default.htm.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.