Clearwater Budget, Tax Rate Take Center Stage Next Week
By Carl Wagenfohr
CLEARWATER - The seemingly endless city budget discussions are about to end, as the City Council will on Thursday hold the first of two public hearings at which Clearwater's 2009/10 property tax rate and budget will be finalized.
The 2009/10 budget process has been especially difficult, pressured by a decline of 12.8-percent in the value of the city's taxable properties, the continued effects of the passage of Amendment 1, and a decline in the value of the city's pension fund assets that requires a 54-percent increase in the city's contribution next year.
City employees will bear some of the budget balancing burden. There will be no general wage increases next year, and the city will not increase its contribution to the employee health care plan, increasing employee costs and/or reducing benefits. The city's employee headcount will drop by 86 from 2008/09 levels.
Citizens will share the burden of budget cuts as well in the form of reduced levels of city-provided services. Operating hours at libraries and recreation centers will be cut, and the Morningside Recreation Center and Harborview Center will be closed.
Those cutbacks will come despite a proposed 9-percent increase in the city's property tax rate, from the 2008/09 level of $4.7254 per $1000 of taxable property value to $5.155 (5.155 mills). The combined effect of reduced property values and increased millage rate will produce $2.3-million less revenue for the city than in 2008/09.
While most citizen feedback on the proposed 2009/10 budget has consisted of pleas to not cut back library and recreation services, the arrival this week of Truth In Millage (TRIM) notices, which estimate next year's property taxes, may arouse those who would oppose a tax rate increase.
While the owners of non-homesteaded properties that have decreased in value by 12-percent or more in the last year will likely see a 4-percent or more reduction in their city tax bill, long-term homesteaded property owners will see the full effect of the proposed 9-percent increase in the city's tax rate. The owner of a property whose 2009 taxable value remained level at $150,000 would see city property tax grow from $708.81 to $773.25.
The City Council will discuss the 2009/10 budget during a worksession on Monday, August 31, at 9AM in City Hall. The first of two public hearings will be held on Thursday September 3rd at 6PM during the regularly scheduled City Council meeting. The final public hearing will be held on Thursday September 17th at 6PM.
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