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Hibbard requests cut in property taxes

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City Council members want to be sure city programs aren’t strained if the millage rate is cut. By AARON SHAROCKMAN Published April 23, 2005 CLEARWATER – Mayor Frank Hibbard has challenged City Manager Bill Horne to cut resident tax bills next year to show citizens that redevelopment has rewards. With several multimillion-dollar Clearwater Beach condominiums now on the tax rolls, and more on the way, Hibbard said it’s time to consider a break for citizens. The city, he said, hasn’t lowered its tax rate in at least 20 years. The mayor’s wish comes at the start of city budget negotiations for next year and months before voters may be asked to approve a $250-million mixed-use development downtown that includes selling City Hall. Horne, however, said Friday that it may be difficult to cut tax bills this year. “There’s too many demands, too much on our plate this year,” he said, referring to proposals to hire additional police and firefighters. “We’re trying to find revenue to pay for things.” Hibbard said a tax cut should be seriously considered, if possible. “What we’ve been preaching over the years is, redevelopment is good if controlled and balanced,” Hibbard said. “Well, what better tangible way to show the citizens that redevelopment actually has benefits than, for the time being, rolling back their millage rate?” Currently, residents pay $1,006 in property taxes for a home valued at $175,000. But next year home values will rise, and if the city keeps the same tax rate, tax bills will also go up. Hibbard wants to lower the city’s tax rate so that homeowners would actually pay less in city taxes than they did this year. He does not have a specific rate proposal. “Right now we are in a time of plenty and that’s a good thing,” Hibbard said. “We can either put (the money) into our general fund and keep it for a rainy day or keep it in the hands of the citizens, for their needs.” City Council members seemed to support the mayor, as long as a tax cut would not strain city programs. “To me, I don’t think the residents want to sacrifice service just to avoid further increases in their real estate taxes,” said council member John Doran. “The question is then, can we provide the level of service residents want with a lower millage rate?” Council member Bill Jonson said, “The one thing that’s kind of interesting is the assumption that development is always good for the community, in that the community wants lower taxes. I can tell you, I had one fellow call me saying that he’d be willing to pay another $20 in taxes not to deal with all this growth.” Last year, the city’s taxable valuable increased 11.7 percent to $7.4-billion. That translated to an extra $4.1-million in city tax revenue. The city’s budget grew by $3.3-million in the same period – from $99.2-million to $102.5-million. This year, a preliminary property value report won’t be available for a month, said Pam Dubov, Pinellas County’s chief deputy property appraiser. A final report will come in June. City officials say it’s too early to determine what will happen to the city’s budget. Aaron Sharockman can be reached at 727 445-4160 or Source:
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