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City passes a budget but leaves loose ends

Still unanswered are questions over fire and police pay scales and additional taxes and fees.

By CHASE SQUIRES, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published September 24, 2002

DADE CITY -- City Commissioners wrapped up on Monday what Mayor Scott Black called the toughest budget process in years -- sort of.

Last minute wrangling, tinkering and pleas from budget victims didn't stop commissioners from finalizing the $9.8-million budget for the fiscal year that starts Oct. 1, but they left unanswered questions over how the city would improve fire and police pay, and what extra taxes or charges residents will have to pay later.

What did become official were increases to business license fees, a rearrangement of water and sewer charges staffers expect will generate more money, and a 10 percent tax on residential water service.

Commissioners left the property tax rate at $7.40 per $1,000 of taxable value. It's the same rate as last year but is considered a 9 percent tax increase over the rollback rate, a tax rate that would have generated the same revenue as last year, taking into account higher property assessments.

The budget process wasn't easy this year.

Dade City fire and police employees left commissioners struggling to raise salaries that fell behind those of neighboring communities.

City Manager Doug Drymon and staff tried to make up some of that with $168,000 set aside for salary adjustments, but that money was stripped from the budget Monday when commissioners said they aren't yet sold on Drymon's proposed method of funding: new fees charged property owners for street lighting, stormwater runoff and fire protection.

Commissioners agreed to spend up to $45,000 for a study of runoff and lighting fees, but decided against pursuing fire protection surcharges for now, with an eye toward letting Pasco County try the idea before taking the next step.

The issue of fire and police pay remains unclear, although negotiations with both unions are ongoing or about to begin.

Eileen Herman of the Florida Pioneer Museum and Village complained the city had slashed support for utility payments at the museum annex in the train depot, saddling the museum with a $5,800 yearly bill unexpectedly, about 10 percent of its annual budget. Commissioners agreed to pay two more months.

City Planner Doug Currier lost the paid summer internship position he said he depends on as the only help he gets all year.

"This has been the most difficult budget that we've ever had," Black said.

Commissioner Hutch Brock said he was unhappy with the process.

"Today's meeting is an example of some scrambling I think could have been avoided," he said.

In the $9.8-million budget, $1.27-million will come from property taxes, up from $1.18-million last year. More than $3-million of the budget will go to police and fire protection.

In other business Monday, commissioners passed a resolution of grief in the memory of San Antonio city father Joe Herrmann, who died this month at 90 years old.

"Joe was a good will ambassador for eastern Pasco County," Black said. "We'll miss him."

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