Pinellas News

Tarpon officials hold preliminary 2015 budget talks

— Commissioners and residents got an early look at the city’s financial health for the coming fiscal year during a budget workshop last Tuesday.

The 2015 fiscal year doesn’t begin until Oct. 1, but City Manager Mark LeCouris, department heads and staff been engaged since May in budget-balancing rituals that will end with a second public hearing and vote on Sept. 24.

As work continues toward balancing its budget, a few key points were highlighted at last week’s workshop:

•Tarpon Springs will hold its general fund property tax rate steady at 5.45 mills for the fifth year in a row. One mill is equal to $1 per $1,000 of taxable property value.

Tax revenues will rise for the second straight year, however, because of increased property values. Ad valorem tax revenue for the estimated $22,187,339 general fund is just over $7.1 million, which is still down from over $8.1 million in 2007.

•There is still a sizeable projected deficit that needs reduced before Oct. 1.

That number came out to $1.988 million when budget discussions began in May, but have since been reduced to $786,991. LeCouris noted last week, though, that the figure doesn’t reflect any salary increases for city staff.

LeCouris said a way to slice off a sizeable chunk of the deficit may be to utilize a portion of funds earned from the sale of the old nursing home on Walton Avenue.

•As of last week, a projected $672,991 will be tapped from the city’s unassigned fund balance, or its reserves.

Tarpon Springs needed to pull over $1.3 million from its reserves to balance the 2013 budget, but that figure dropped to a projected $651,346 for this current budget.

The city still carries an expected $8.53 million unassigned fund balance despite two straight years of pulling from it. That’s only about $20,000 less than at year-end in 2007, but down from a high of over $10.9 million in 2010.

Current reserve levels are well above a point of worry, LeCouris said, explaining that nearing the $7 million mark would begin to trigger “drastic cuts” in jobs or services.

“Somewhere along the line we’ve got to get to a point where the unassigned fund balance is not used, we have a balanced budget and then we can start thinking about dropping the millage rate,” LeCouris said. “That’s got to come somewhere. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to come for the next 3-5 years.”

Tarpon Springs will hold its next budget workshop at 6:30 p.m. this Thursday, Aug. 7, at City Hall. Another session will be held Aug. 14 if deemed necessary.

The first public budget hearing is scheduled for Monday, Sept. 8.

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