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Budgeting stalls as lawmakers hem, haw

"We're at a standstill, " the mayor says. Pinellas Park is also struggling.

Published May 13, 2007


SEMINOLE - Usually at this time of year, cities are putting the final touches on the first draft of their annual budget. But this year, with a Legislature undecided on how to give promised relief to taxpayers, budget issues are uncertain and city officials are left suggesting possible scenarios and ways to meet each one.

"We're at a standstill right now, " Seminole Mayor Jimmy Johnson said Friday.

Johnson said the stress is piling up because the first reading of the budget is scheduled for the beginning of June and the final reading in early July.

"We're not anywhere near that, " he said. "It's not pretty. We need to get this resolved."

Pinellas Park is also suffering.

"We're all in a state of limbo right now, " said Dan Katsyiannis, head of Pinellas Park's Office of Management and Budget. "We've looked at almost everything. ... It's a major shift in our operating revenues and how we do business. How it's all going to shake out, who knows?"

City Manager Mike Gustafson is meeting with department heads trying to decide what to cut, if anything, and other solutions based on various alternatives floating around Tallahassee. When those meetings are done, Katsyiannis said, the budget can start being pieced together.

A similar process is happening in Seminole, where City Manager Frank Edmunds has told his department heads to be prepared to justify their requests with facts and figures while keeping in mind residents' desire for tax relief.

"All of the department heads have turned in their budgets irrespective of what's going on in Tallahassee, " said Mark Ely, head of Seminole's development department. "We've all done a top to bottom scrubbing of our budgets."

But all that effort could be for naught once the Legislature goes into special session in June. And, with city budgets having to be finalized and passed by late September, cities could be in a real crunch if severe cuts are made.

Pinellas County's legislative delegation has planned three public hearings to find out what voters think of the plans and to listen to possible problems causes by each proposed solution.

"While I am disappointed that tax relief for Floridians must wait an additional month, the importance and complexity of this issue does call for extended research and debate, " state Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, said. "Acting without an appropriate amount of deliberation could have resulted in changes that would lead to a crisis years down the road, not unlike what we currently face.

"I am looking forward to this opportunity to seek additional input from our citizens and local governments because in the long run, it is more responsible and prudent to find fair and long-term solutions rather than push through an ill-advised last minute solution, " Long said.

If you go

Sound off on taxes

State Rep. Janet C. Long, D-Seminole, and other members of the Pinellas County legislative delegation will hold three town hall meetings in May about property tax reform in preparation for the special legislative session to begin June 12.

The first meeting is from 5 to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Digitorium on the Seminole Campus of St. Petersburg College, 9200 113th St. N.

Each meeting will follow the same format, with opening remarks outlining the various proposals being offered by Gov. Charlie Crist, the Florida Senate and the state House, and an opportunity for residents' comments.

The event is free.

[Last modified May 12, 2007, 19:32:51]

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