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Property values buoy Clearwater city budget

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City leaders don’t plan to raise property tax rates on Thursday. An 11.7 percent increase in property values has contributed enough to avoid a shortfall. By ADRIENNE P. SAMUELS Published July 13, 2004

CLEARWATER – Clearwater homeowners can expect to pay more to the tax man this year.

Property values in the city have skyrocketed 11.7 percent, which means that although city officials are proposing the same tax rate as last year, more money will enter the city’s tax coffers.

What does this mean for Joe Taxpayer?

Essentially, city officials on Thursday will set in motion a plan to set the tax rate at $5.75 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

This proposed millage rate of 5.753 means that a homeowner with the standard $150,000 house, minus the $25,000 homeowners deduction, can expect to pay $719.13 in property taxes. Additionally, the tax bill will include separate fees and taxes for the Pinellas County School District and Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority.

The increase in collected tax dollars will finance the city’s $102.5-million budget. As usual, the largest chunk of that money will go to public safety; $600,000 will go to new beach restrooms; a $167,000 increase for the Harborview Center; and an increase of $400,000 in the library budget to help accommodate the new main library’s six month operating expenses.

In recent months, the city reported a possible $2.6-million budget shortfall primarily because of the rise in medical insurance costs. City Budget Director Tina Wilson said the tax rate would need to rise 7 percent to keep in line with expenses, or the city would need to cut services.

Wilson did not expect property values to come in so high.

“The increase in the tax values are the strongest point,” Wilson said. “They’re the only revenue number that is increasing significantly.”

Wilson started the budget process last November, looking for ways to streamline the city’s spending.

“We’ve taken a look at trying to set a precedent of dealing with some of our issues and setting a financial culture where we’re trying to balance our need and wants with financial ability to pay,” Wilson said.

At the same time, the city is not collecting as much money as it usually does from a tax on telephone service s – mostly because consumers are using their cell phones for long distance calls. The change has resulted in an estimated $1-million difference for Clearwater’s tax rolls, Wilson said.

Sales tax dollars also have not quite recovered to pre-Sept. 11 levels.

In 2004, the taxable value of properties in the city was $6.7-billion. For 2005, that number is estimated to rise to $7.5-billion. Compare that to 1995, when the taxable value of properties in Clearwater was only $4-billion.

Clearwater partially credits itself for the rise.

“A lot of that is because of infrastructure we put in,” Mayor Brian Aungst said.

City Manager Bill Horne points to stormwater drainage and sewer improvements on North Clearwater Beach as an example.

“When it rains heavily, there is no flooding in the road,” Horne said. A homeowner who might have considered selling might instead “elect to make renovations,” he said.

The council on Thursday will vote on the preliminary tax rate. After that, there will be two public hearings in September, where residents can ask questions and discuss the budget.

* * * Adrienne Samuels can be reached at 445-4157 or samuels@sptimes.com

Source: http://www.sptimes.com/2004/07/13/Northpinellas/Property_values_buoy_.shtml#rants

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