Clearwater City Budget - Robbing Peter to Pay Paul
By Anne McKay Garris
The Clearwater City Council Members, Monday evening, faced a room full of Clearwater citizens, listening for three hours to the diversity of views on how the city's funds should be allocated.
City staff started with attempting to explain the unexplainable, namely why some property owners will actually pay less taxes than last year in spite of the proposed raise of real estate taxes to 5.51 mills. Some properties are homesteaded and, therefore, their taxes can go up only 3.5% a year. If this amount is less than market value, they will have a tax increase. That's because their properties are already taxed at less than the market value. Other property owners will see the actual tax amount go down because their property's market value has gone down.
Even with the increase in millage, which should put into the city coffers approximately $2 million more than they had to spend last year, more and painful cuts are proposed for this year. That was mostly what the citizens at the budget meeting had come to discuss.
Over half the citizens present were in favor of keeping the North Greenwood Library in its present location. Although the proposal is not to close the North Greenwood Library, but move it, in a reduced form, to the North Greenwood Recreation Center, the outcry was polite, well modulated, but insistent that it be kept as is.
Head Librarian Barbara Pickell showed the Council a drawing of the layout for the proposed change. She stated that all the computers will remain and there will be a place for activities in the meeting rooms, shared with the Recreation Center. This is in addition to a selection of books, videos and reference materials.
Maurice Dickens, who described himself as active in the North Greenwood community, commented, "I went in to the North Greenwood Library and saw the tiles, recording donations from the people towards the building of the library. Several organizations also donated large sums. What are we to say to those people? The library is a big part of the revitalization of North Greenwood. What are we to say to people who are wanting to be a part of the redevelopment of North Greenwood?"
Another speaker stated, "Leave the library where it is. It will be a slap in the face of crime in the neighborhood."
And a schoolteacher pointed out how important the library is for the children. Kellis Glenn, a concerned grandmother, brought her three grandchildren who told, in soft determined voices, why they needed the library. The three youngsters, Kaylah Waiters, Jordan Niles and Tony Niles told the council how helpful the library is with their school work and in their other activities.
The funding of lifeguard activities on Clearwater Beach has been moved from the Parking Fund to Parks and Recreation, according to Kevin Dunbar, director of Parks and Recreation. With the reduction in income, the lifeguard program will be reduced to covering only the south Beach, from Pier 60 to the former Adam's Mark Resort site, 365 days of the year. In the area from Pier 60 to Rockaway Street (just south of the Palm Pavilion) the lifeguards will be on duty only during Spring Break, Memorial Day and Labor Day weekends.
The Parking Fund is one of the few general fund budgets that is not strained. It now stands at approximately $13 million, but $49 million has been pledged towards the possibility that the proposed privately built parking garage now under negotiation, doesn't succeed. Our Councilors have agreed that they will buy the parking garage from the owner if, within five years after it begins operation, it is foreclosed. It is expected that a small amount of the remaining funds will help support the Jolley Trolley service for another year. And several million has been pledged to buy down the debt on the bayfront boat slips whenever they are built.
The good news is that the County has agreed to keep the EMS Truck at Clearwater Beach and the Philadelphia Phillies will pick up some of the expenses at Carpenter field next year.
Dunbar pointed out that a large number of facilities have been added to the Parks and Recreation Grounds Maintenance Budget in the last ten years. Among these are two fire stations, 2 recreation centers, the takeover of responsibility for the Long Center, the 90,000 square foot new library downtown, the North Greenwood Library and others. The Parks and Recreation Department is responsible for all of the maintenance of landscaping on city properties, including City Hall and Memorial Causeway. He warned that mowing of grass had been scheduled less frequently in the last two years.
There was some discussion of the recommendation to close Morningside Recreation Center. Although the pool, tennis courts and playground will remain in operation, the old building must either be removed or replaced. There is some money available to rebuild the building but none to operate it.
In response to the input from citizens on Monday night, the Tuesday morning Council Workshop was mostly about the budget.
Mayor Frank Hibbard presented a recommendation which, he said, would remove the need for an increase in the millage rate. This would require, in addition to the other recommended cuts; closing the East Library, reducing Public Communications Department drastically, cutting the City Attorney's budget, taking $1.934 million from the road building reserve, and $1 million from the city's reserve fund. The other council members were less than enthusiastic about these proposals.
Councilmember Paul Gibson recommended that City Manager Bill Horne and staff look at the budget again with the goal of getting it reduced to last year's millage rate plus 3%.
Councilmember John Doran offered to save them the trouble. He explained that you could close all the libraries and two of the new recreation centers and still would not be anywhere near the number that Councilmember Gibson was looking for. He pointed out that he was not recommending this action, only pointing out the futility of trying to meet the 2009-2010 budget without a millage increase.
All of the council members agreed that they did not want to come to the final vote in September without any preliminary decisions. They want to make decisions early enough to get citizen input on them before they are final. Up until now, all of the discussion of the city budget has been recommendations and comments. So far, no votes have been taken.
Return to Current Edition