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On tax debate's front lines

By ROBIN STEIN
Published March 8, 2007


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TARPON SPRINGS - Declaring Florida's tax reform proposals an imminent threat, city leaders are deploying their city manager to lobby the state Legislature full time.

City Manager Ellen Posivach will depart for Tallahassee on March 18 and stay until the session is scheduled to end May 4. In her place, police Chief Mark LeCouris will serve as acting city manager.

The assignment came at Posivach's request. Her mission in Tallahassee: to minimize the damage of property and sales tax reform for Tarpon Springs, a city of 23,000.

"I have five people on the commission who told me to get in my car and get up here and do something," said Posivach, who has been the city's top employee for eight years.

Posivach said she is still formulating her strategy for the highly-charged debate that has been building for more than a year.

"This is a big deal - everyone is running around scared," said Mayor Beverley Billiris. "Obviously there is going to be tax reform and we have to have some input."

Posivach, who earns $118,000 in salary, has estimated her expenses in Tallahassee will be $4,600. That's less than it would cost the city to hire a lobbyist, she said.

LeCouris will also be paid an additional 5 percent for his interim post during the period. His annual salary is nearly $100,000.

Posivach faces an uphill battle. Business and investment property owners have been hit with crippling property tax increases in the past few years because of increases in property values.

Meanwhile, new homeowners complain they pay far more in property taxes than their neighbors who have benefitted for years from the Save Our Homes property tax cap that limits how much their taxes can increase per year to 3 percent.

Both the House of Representatives and the governor are pushing tax changes that would limit local government property tax revenues. The Senate has yet to propose a plan.

The House plan calls for doing away with property taxes on homesteaded properties and replacing the revenue by raising the state sales tax 2 cents per dollar. And it proposes rolling back millage rates for local governments to Jan. 1, 2001, levels, allowing for increases based on inflation and population growth. Any additional increases would require a supermajority vote of city commissions.

The House plan could cut $2.4-million from Tarpon Springs' $20-million budget, Posivach said.

The city manager said her lobbying experience will make her a formidable and comparatively inexpensive advocate for the city during the legislative session. She said she came up with the idea after her remarks were well-received at a legislative property tax hearing held in Tampa in February.

Posivach said she is encouraged by the emphatic support from all five commissioners.

"I was touched that Peter Dalacos offered to take care of my dog," she said.

But Phoenix, her miniature poodle, will be accompanying Posivach when she departs for the capital.

[Last modified March 7, 2007, 22:48:34]


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