tampabay.com

Tax relief plans put freeze on city hiring

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published April 4, 2007


The city manager has called for a "soft" hiring freeze just in case the Legislature restricts the amount of property taxes cities can collect.

On hold so far are two administrative positions in the Police Department, an administrative clerk and a mail clerk, and a streets and drainage operator position in the Public Works Department.

It's a bit difficult to describe the difference between a soft freeze and a traditional hiring freeze. Pinellas Park spokesman Tim Caddell said it lies in which positions are affected and in the term "policy."

Front line positions in fire and police departments won't be affected, he said. Administrative positions in those departments are. Administrative and other positions are affected pretty much across the board, although decisions will be made about each individual case.

Mike Gustafson informed city department heads about the freeze on March 26.

"It's not a policy that we're not hiring," Caddell said. "Basically, he said we're not going to hire any people until we know where the Legislature is going."

The Legislature is mulling several possible solutions to help homeowners get relief from property taxes that jumped as land values increased during the real estate boom of the past few years. A couple of the proposals involve rolling back muncipalities' tax rates to 2002 or 2003 levels.

If that were done, Caddell said, city finance officials estimate Pinellas Park could lose between 7 and 15 percent of its budget, or $1-million to $1.5-million.

Caddell described Gustafson's decision as precautionary. It's easier to hire someone later than to have to lay off people should the Legislature's actions require a big cutback, he said.

The city's current budget shows $16.3-million expected to come from ad valorem, or property taxes. That's about 34 percent of the total $48.1-million the city expects to receive in revenue.

The freeze should have no noticeable effects on daily services, Caddell said.