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    Property values boost budget

    The city manager says a tax increase can be avoided because of budget cutbacks and the rise in collections.

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times,
    published July 2, 2001


    LARGO -- City Manager Steven Stanton now thinks a property tax increase will not be needed in the near future, thanks to the greater-than-anticipated jump in property values.

    That assessment was made after city officials put together what Mayor Bob Jackson called a conservative budget for the 2001-02 fiscal year. That plan is $82.8-million, a 2.5 percent increase in spending from the previous year's budget.

    "It's a pretty austere budget," said Jackson.

    Hoping to avoid a tax increase -- perhaps in 2002-03 -- Stanton asked all department directors to look for ways to cut back. The result was a $984,000 decrease in operating expenses, which include cutbacks in travel and training for some city employees and putting the brakes on the pace of replacing city vehicles.

    "It was very difficult," Stanton said of the budget process.

    In March, Stanton suggested a property tax increase would be needed to pay for salary increases and various projects. At the time, city officials expected property values to go up by 9 percent. But in May, the county announced the value of properties in Largo increased by 12.3 percent. City officials now say that figure is 13.9 percent.

    As a result of the unexpectedly higher values, the city will be able to collect more money without raising taxes. Individual tax bills, however, will go up along with property values.

    Jackson and the city commissioners have not seen the budget, which was being put together late Friday. The city charter requires it to be sent to commissioners before July 1. The 2001-02 budget must be approved by Oct. 1.

    Stanton proposes a 20.5 percent increase in spending by the library department in 2001-02. The proposed increase, nearly $700,000, will be used to plan a new library in Largo Central Park.

    The greatest decrease, 25 percent, would come in recreation and parks. Stanton said that additional money was put in this year's budget for improvements to the east side of Largo Central Park and the Highland Family Aquatic Center, which is expected to reopen on the Fourth of July.

    Public hearings will be held on the proposed budget beginning this month.

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