The broadcast of last week's City Council Budget hearing cut short the comments of Clearwater resident Marty Altner. For the benefit of those who watched the hearing on CVIEW or streaming video, the Gazette has published Altner's prepared statement in its entirety below.
Even the best laid plans and intentions must be changed when conditions change. Such is the case with families and businesses and, although City government at today's budget level is more like an ocean liner, it must act just as quickly to protect its family, the citizens, when emergencies arise. Passivity in the face of crisis can only lead to Clearwater being today's Titanic.
Costs for many small business and property owners, who are, also, employers and, of course, taxpayers have escalated into just such an emergency. The Legislature has not only ignored the problems of the "Save Your Home" caps, exacerbated abruptly by the false increase in property value in Florida based on sales during the real estate bubble of 2005, but members, including Ms. Berfield, your guest earlier at this meeting, have also ignored the insurance crisis that has doubled to quadrupled insurance rates since May, 2006. It is the combination of these uncontrollable expenses that has put an impossible burden upon property and business owners.
As for "Save Your Home" homeowners, many don't realize yet the consequences for them. Although they are not burdened immediately with similar tax increases, they will find that they will not be able to sell their homes at the prices they anticipated. Buyers, simply, aren't there because they have become aware of the tax consequences if they buy at anywhere near the prices still being asked, in addition to the unconscionable insurance rates they will have to pay. The children of Pinellas homeowners will not be able to buy a home in Clearwater even if they can afford the down payment and mortgage, because reasonable incomes will not allow for tax and insurance payments. No one will be able to downsize or upsize appropriately to suit their changing conditions. Plainly speaking, the middle class will be driven out of the County and those who survive with "Save Your homes" will be "prisoners" in their own homes.
We all agree that affordable housing is in crisis in Pinellas. We all support affordable housing. That's why we're here. But we won't help the homeless by creating more of them, stimulating business and job flight instead of growth, and forcing residential apartment owners to increase rents dramatically or sell their properties to those who wish to convert them to condos, if they can now be sold.
And, by the way, what about tax mitigation for landlords who provide decent housing in Clearwater? And where are the invitations to landlords and small property owners when committees are established to confront this problem? Aren't these owners the experts in this field? At the least, wouldn't it be prudent to consult them?
Financially, how will the City fund this year's budget increases next year, with property sales now non-existent, and prices dropping? Assessments will be down and the millage rate will have to increase for the City to continue to afford whatever increases are being put into place this year. If outrage is growing now, imagine what will happen next year, when all Pinellas property owners will have been subject to massive insurance renewal increases, and another year of excessive taxation.
There is no question that a big part of the answer must come from Tallahassee. But we must start somewhere. That start must be here in Clearwater. The strongest message we can send our State legislators right now is by acting locally, not just talking. And some of the leadership we will need to address the problems not addressed, to date, by Tallahassee must come from our local elected political leadership, regardless of political affiliation or loyalties, who see these problems more clearly and are most affected, with their constituents, by them and the lack of action to solve them on a State level. The people will follow.
Consequently, all budget increases must be put on hold unless they represent necessities, and the millage rate must be at the rollback rate, until these problems can be, at least, mitigated. Also, we must institute zero based budgeting for next year.
Such actions by the City Council are the wake up call our State legislators cannot ignore.
Otherwise there will be more homeless, not less, less taxpayers to pay for them and other programs, and, potentially, a real estate disaster in Clearwater that could critically affect people and City services in the very near future.
Thank you for your time and attention.
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