Pinellas mayors and lawmakers to confer on tax rollback

Published May 26, 2007

Florida's county leaders have proposed an all-out public relations campaign to try to influence the property tax debate in Tallahassee. But Pinellas County's mayors are hoping a more diplomatic approach will work.

The county's 24 mayors and the 12-member Pinellas County legislative delegation are expected to meet June 6 to discuss the property tax proposals that have pitted state lawmakers looking to cut taxes against local governments that worry the cuts will require them to slash popular services. A special session starts in Tallahassee June 12.

"This isn't going to be a whining session -- it's going to be an opportunity for us to identify at different levels what we may have to cut and how we believe property tax reform should be fixed," said Clearwater Mayor Frank Hibbard, president of the Pinellas County Mayors' Council, who called the meeting unprecedented.

The plan contrasts with the one deployed earlier this month by the Florida Association of Counties, which urged its members to use the media, the Internet and volunteers to influence lawmakers.

Hibbard said he wants state lawmakers to help the nonhomesteaded property owners who don't benefit from the Save Our Homes 3 percent cap. And he wants to stress that current proposals will cut into local quality-of-life programs.

Nearly all the debate in Tallahassee has focused on cutting taxes for homesteaded property owners -- not on commercial or investment property owners who have seen their taxes skyrocket with the recent runup in property values.

Some state senators and representatives said they're ready to listen, but major tax cuts of some sort are coming.

"Many of our city council members and mayors across the state have not come to the realization that there are going to be tax cuts and rollbacks, and they need to come to that realization," said Sen. Mike Fasano, R-New Port Richey. "But we need them working with us in trying to come up with how we can get there with the least amount of impact to their communities."

The meeting is open to the public, but no public comment will be taken.

The talks come as cities and counties brace for cuts to their operational budgets of 10 percent or more based on discussions during the Legislature's regular session earlier this year. In St. Petersburg, city leaders have told nonprofits not to ask for any more money this coming fiscal year. In Clearwater, commissioners are considering cutting 90 jobs, and shortening library and recreation center hours.

Mike Donila can be reached at 727 445-4160 or mdonila@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:


Leaders meet

What: Meeting between the Pinellas County Mayor's Council and the Pinellas County legislative delegation.

When: 10 a.m.-noon June 6.

Where: Main Library in downtown Clearwater.