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Tax rate stands against outcry

St. Petersburg residents make fervent pleas for property tax relief, but City Council affirms the proposed rate.

By MARLON A. WALKER
Published September 14, 2006


ST. PETERSBURG — The battle over property taxes continued Thursday night as several residents tried one last time to convince the City Council to lower the rate.

Unrelenting, the City Council voted 5-3 to approve the new rate of 6.60 mills for fiscal year 2007. One mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

It’s the city’s lowest rate in 20 years, but rising property values mean most homeowners will still pay more. The city expects to collect 12 percent more in tax dollars than last year.

The council also adopted the city’s proposed $569 million budget.

Residents took to the lectern Thursday night to voice their dissatisfaction with the proposed rate. Responding to a challenge by Council chairman Bill Foster, some offered alternatives, such as getting rid of the Pier and cutting the number of city workers. Others said they felt like they were being driven out of the city.

“No longer is it an option to move into St. Petersburg,” said Scott Samuels, a real estate broker and St. Petersburg resident. “Investors are banking on a mass migration to rural parts of our country.”

Samuels said there were plenty of things that could be done to cut the city’s budget to offset a lower tax rate. Among his suggestions was cutting excessive city workers.

“The watering truck in a downpour the other day is out watering trees,” he said to laughter from the audience of about 80 people. “You just need to tighten up the budget and get the taxes down.”

Cypraea Vanderpool  said even with a vocational certificate, she can’t make enough money to care for her family. She said rising tax rates won’t make it any better.

“I feel like I’m being kicked out,” she said. “I can no longer afford to live here. (The City Council) is not trying to help the people in any way, shape or form.”

St. Petersburg resident David McKalip pointed out that the city did just fine with a much lower budget just five years ago.

He said council members should find ways to make spending cuts so that the tax rate could be lowered.

“That’s why we elected you: to make the hard decisions,” he said.

Councilwoman Rene Flowers, firing back at McKalip during her debate time, asked him if his operating costs for his business went up over the last year.

“Yes,” he replied.

“It’s going to take us more money to run our business,” Flowers responded. “It’s taking this city more to run on a day-to-day basis.”


At that point, the Rev. Bruce Wright of Refuge Ministries got out of his seat and asked the audience, “Are we going to listen to this?”
About 15 people got up and exited the council chambers with him.

Earlier, Wright had stressed to the council that development projects like condominiums were pushing the poor and homeless out of downtown St. Petersburg.

Councilman James Bennett expressed his appreciation for the outpouring of concern from residents. But he implored the audience to get involved with the budget process earlier next year. Discussions start as early as next month, he said.

“We need to start on that at the beginning of the year,” he said. “I expect to see you with us.”

Times reporter Marlon A. Walker can be reached at (727) 893-8737 or mwalker@sptimes.com

[Last modified September 14, 2006, 23:44:00]


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