St. Pete City Council tentatively approved a millage rate for the fiscal year 2016 budget during its meeting Thursday. Under the proposed budget the property taxes collected by the city would remain flat at a 6.77 millage rate.
Council also approved public meeting dates to discuss the budget for September 3 and 17 at 7:30. City Council must approve a budget before October 1.
City Council has to vote on a millage rate preemptively by August 4 in order to allow the Pinellas County Tax Collector to mail statements to property owners by August 21.
The proposed rate can still be altered down, but to increase the rate the city would have to mail notices to residents, which would ultimately cost more and isn’t likely to happen.
City Council member Karl Nurse suggested the board approve a marginally lower rate that would have made little difference on St. Pete property owners’ tax bills, but his idea was thwarted after about 20 minutes of discussion.
“Although it’s a token cut, it actually at least acknowledges that we’re aware of it and could set a foundation for next year if our growth continues in both the value of the property and the increase in building,” City Council member Jim Kennedy said.
However, St. Pete Mayor Rick Kriseman argued a lower millage rate isn’t a good idea yet.
“Feel-good cuts really don’t accomplish what the goal is,” Kriseman said. “While I certainly am supportive of the concept … to do something that has an impact on our citizens that isn’t just feel good, I think would be more appropriate, but to do it now … I think would not be prudent.”
The mayor’s proposed $607 million budget represents a 3 percent increase over this year. It includes a 3 percent pay raise for city employees. That’s more than the city’s original plan to raise salaries 2 percent, but less than the 5 percent some employees were calling for.
The budget also calls for $285,000 to be put into the newly created South St. Pete Community Redevelopment Area.
Under Kriseman’s budget the city would also set aside $3.5 million for a new fire station in Fossil Park.
Nurse pointed out there are a couple of areas in the budget that could have been tweeked to allow for a reduced millage rate. Between money earmarked for Pier Security, something likely not necessary as the city moves toward demolition, and the Battle of the Bands Nurse said isn’t going to happen, there is more than $400,000 that could be shored up.
Some council members argued the millage rate could always be reduced later, but Nurse correctly reminded that the budget will be formulated around the millage rate voted on by council and would be difficult to accommodate a reduction in ad valorem revenue after the fact.