Largo Budget Calls for Lower Property Tax Rate, Higher Fees

Millage rate expected to dip; wastewater rate to spike 25%

LARGO — Higher property values could mean lower tax rates for Largo residents, according to the fiscal year 2020 budget proposed by City Manager Henry Schubert.

The budget, which was released July 1, totals $167.69 million in gross expenditures — a 2.15% increase from last year — and details several new initiatives the city hopes to accomplish in the coming year, such as the launch of a downtown identity brand, holding a Largo Central Park 25th anniversary event, installing a new self-checkout system for the library, rolling out new city welcome signs and many more. 

Schubert thinks the city can reduce the tax rate from 5.7413 to 5.6 mills and still achieve all of its goals, though, because of an estimated 7.96% increase in Largo’s total taxable value, which means many residents will still be paying more in property tax. One mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of assessed property value.

The higher property values mean the lower tax rate would still generate an additional $1.3 million, or 5.2%, in revenue in the general fund. 

“Both city staff and the community are engaged in creative problem solving that challenges the status quo while maintaining superior service delivery,” Schubert wrote in his budget introduction. “This recipe will continue to propel us through continued challenges related to outdated revenue structures and the pressures of economic instability. A strategic and balanced approach has helped the city reach the City Commission’s desired target of 20% fund balance, all while maintaining funding for strategic priorities and allowing for a reduction in the proposed millage rate.”

On July 17, commissioners will establish the maximum tax rate to be included on notices to residents.

Rate increase

The city isn’t cutting rates in all areas, though. 

Over the past four years, the city has undertaken over $100 million in wastewater projects funded through state loans. The past year, the city approved borrowing an additional $60.3 million to make improvements to the middle portion of the treatment plant.

In order to keep up with its obligations, city staff are recommending a 25 percent increase in wastewater fees in fiscal year 2020, which begins Oct. 1. The hike would be the first since 2007.

In subsequent years, increases in stormwater and solid waste fees are also likely. 

Other highlights

• The city will continue its push to redevelop downtown by beginning a $150,000 analysis of how big a footprint would be needed in order to construct a new City Hall and public parking garage. The projects, the budget states, will be supported with the official launch of a new downtown Largo branding campaign.

• Largo Fire Rescue will receive some help, as the budget sets aside $258,000 for the addition of three firefighter/paramedics. Pinellas County also has agreed to pay $300,000 for three new lieutenants, who will address public safety issues using proactive methods and data-driven recommendations.

• Fiscal year 2020 will mark the beginning of the city’s $500,000 fire station reconstruction program, which will reconstruct three of the six stations over the next 10 years. The plan aims to use a master-station design that will apply to different station locations, minimizing the cost and saving Penny for Pinellas dollars.

• One of the budget’s higher-priced initiatives will be the launch of a new $3.5 million Enterprise Resource Planning system, modernizing most of the city’s “back-office” processes. The city will also increase investments in IT security at a cost of $59,000.

• The city is proposing a new grounds maintenance crew to handle most medians and some smaller areas previously worked on by contractors. 

According to the budget, $98,000 has been earmarked for services that would have cost a minimum of $200,000 or more each year.

• In order to provide outreach services to the homeless and help them find resources, the city is proposing joining a countywide initiative and starting a part-time contractual homeless outreach effort for $28,000. 

• Older light-duty vehicles in the city’s fleet will be replaced with hybrid or electric alternatives “wherever practical,” according to the budget.

Commissioners will discuss the budget in a joint work session with the Finance Advisory Board at 1 p.m. Friday, July 12, at the Largo Public Library.