City’s belt-tightening pays off for next fiscal year

— For the first time in four years, the city’s proposed general fund budget will balance without tapping into its general fund reserves, and for the sixth straight year, the city’s tax rate of 5.1550 mills is expected to remain the same.

City Manager Bill Horne presented a proposed $391.6 million budget for 2014-2015 to the city council in its Monday work session.

The proposed budget is an increase of $16 million across all city operations, he said. The general fund budget reflects expenditures of $116,977,170, an increase of 2 percent from the current budget year of $114,923,880.

“We are very blessed, I think, to present you with a balanced budget, especially as it reflects a strengthening in our economy and our city,” he said.

In his annual budget message, Horne also said, “As the city looks toward the future, we need to do so strategically, carefully weighing citizen expectations as well as financial impacts, both positive and negative, on city operations. It will most likely be many years before we see growth in our city that we had in the decades of the ‘70s and ‘80s.”

Although property values grew by more than 5 percent this year, the city is still working within fairly constrained resources and that “logic and smart growth, rather than passion for change, must prevail,” Horne said

For the second time in seven years, the city’s property values are expected to rise from $7.7 billion to $8.2 billion, which is expected to generate $38,389,230 based on the 5.15 tax rate, compared to $36.5 million in the current year. Sales and utility taxes, franchise fees, service charges and other revenues will generate about $78 million.

The proposed budget also indicates 1,708 employees next fiscal year, an increase of about 12.

The budget also proposes several capital improvement projects, including:

• $3.3 million in Penny for Pinellas funding for the construction of Countryside Fire Station. This is one of several planned fire station replacements in the current ten-year infrastructure sales tax cycle.

• $1.7 million towards the reconstruction of the police firing range at the Countryside Substation. The shooting range was constructed more than thirty years ago and major improvements are needed at the facility including a new baffling and bullet containment system.

• $549,830 in Penny funding for a new fire engine for the fire department.

• $660,000 over the next two years for repairs needed at Bright House Field. The first phase will include caulking and sealing of joints in the structure and the replacement of the scoreboard, and in the second phase of the project the video display board will be replaced

• $220,000 to make improvements to the restroom and concession building at Phillip Jones Park, as well as repairs and improvements to the press box and storage facility.

• And $250,000 has also been set aside for the exterior water proofing of the Long Center.

The city council will vote tonight during its regular 6 p.m. meeting to set the tentative millage rate and set public hearing dates on the budget for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4, and Thursday, Sept. 18, at City Hall.

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