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Zephyrhills budget holds the line

The city manager's proposal keeps property tax rates at the present level but rising property values still could push up bills.

By CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 13, 2000


ZEPHYRHILLS -- City Manager Steve Spina on Monday proposed leaving the city's tax rate where it has been for nine years.

In his proposed spending plan for 2000-2001, unveiled Monday, Spina suggested a preliminary tax rate for city property owners at 6.42 mills.

If City Council members don't adjust the figure, the owner of a $75,000 home in Zephyrhills, with a $25,000 homestead exemption, would pay $321 in city taxes. But unless council members lower Spina's proposed millage rate, most property owners can expect to pay slightly more in taxes because land and home values are increasing.

A mill produces $1 of tax for each $1,000 of non-exempt property value.

Spina's proposal for 2000-2001 includes a spending plan of $21.9-million, just under this year's $22-million budget.

But Spina said he erred on the side of caution in drawing up the preliminary figures, underestimating the expected rise in property values and the revenue the city receives from state taxes on gas, cigarettes and alcohol.

Spina said he will have a better idea of how much the city can spend in the next fiscal year once Pasco Property Appraiser Mike Wells releases the new tax rolls later this week. If it turns out the city has more money than he anticipated, Spina said he has a wish list of things to spend it on, including another police officer and a $20,000 color copier for the city library.

He decided to proceed conservatively, he said, because the "City Council has been hesitant to change the millage rate in the past."

Spina proposed raising the tax rate in 1997 and 1998, and both times council members shot him down.

The tentative budget for next year includes $5-million to continue construction and design for Greenslope Drive, envisioned as an access road for shopping centers west of U.S. 301 on the northern outskirts of town.

It also provides $370,000 for the second phase of the downtown streetscaping project, $150,000 for park improvements and a 5 percent raise for all city employees.

Spina said he wanted to spend more on preparing the city's infrastructure for growth. But he decided to wait another year -- or at least until he has a chance to discuss his ideas with council members at a June 26 budget workshop.

"This is a finish-things-up budget rather than a start-new-things budget," he said.

As an alternative to raising taxes, Spina said he will ask council members at the workshop if they want to float a municipal bond to pay for capital improvement projects.

Public hearings on the budget are scheduled for Sept. 11 and 25. The new budget year begins Oct. 1.

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