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Voters get final say on rise in homeowner dues

Taxing district trustees are split on whether to raise the assessment $20 to $120.

By LOGAN D. MABE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 3, 2002

NORTHDALE -- Unsure whether the taxing district needs to raise more money to keep the community looking spiffy, Northdale Special Tax District trustees will let voters decide.

The board voted 4-3 Tuesday night to put a referendum on the ballot seeking a $20 increase in the amount homeowners can be assessed each year. The assessment is $100 annually, the same rate that homeowners have paid since 1987.

If voters approve the increase in the September primary elections, the taxing district could decide to raise the assessment by any amount up to $20.

New property manager Rick Pitrowski recommended the $20 increase based on his analysis of the district's annual budget.

At the current tax rate, the district will bring in about $306,000 in 2002, but is budgeted to spend $410,000. In 2003, the revenues will be $302,000, and expenses are budgeted to be $384,000.

The district can cover the shortfall because it now has about $200,000 in reserves. Without a tax increase, those reserves will be wiped out in a few years, Pitrowski told trustees.

"Can we survive for three more years on $100? Yes," Pitrowski said. "Can we continue to improve for three more years? No."

A $20 increase in the assessment would generate about $66,000 in the 2,700-home community.

Trustee Winfield Webster said he was against any increase, and that the district could do a better job of managing the money it now has. "We have not covered anything about being more conservative," Webster said. None of you have said, 'How can we save a little money?' You just say, 'Spend, spend, spend.' "

But trustee Bill Castens, who admitted to some hesitation about raising the cap, said the district needs more money to maintain the neighborhood's high standards.

"Can we scrimp by? I definitely think we can scrimp by. But I'm very proud of Northdale and the way it looks. You don't get that for free."

"Put it on the ballot and see what the people say," said trustee Brian Tanberg, reasoning that "it's real hard to tell what the public wants."

Board vice president Manuel Garcia said that without the increase the district would likely have to cut services that residents have come to depend on, such as the off-duty deputy patrols that help stem speeding in the neighborhood.

Castens, trustee Dennis Cooper, Garcia and Tanberg voted in favor of putting the referendum on the ballot. Esther Lutz, trustee Gary Moore and Webster voted against it.

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