Zephyrhills presents draft budget, appropriations requests

The City of Zephyrhills has unveiled its proposed budget for fiscal year 2019-20 — totaling more than $67 million.

The $67,043,615 draft budget is based on a tentative tax rate of 6.35 mills previously approved by the Zephyrhills City Council. The draft budget was shared during an Aug. 12 council meeting.

The City of Zephyrhills’ $67 million draft budget is based on a tentative tax rate of 6.35 mills. A budget workshop is scheduled for Aug. 26. Public hearings on the proposed budget are scheduled for Sept. 9 and Sept. 23. (File)

Based on the 6.35 millage rate, the total budget for the new fiscal year will be roughly $16.4 million for the city’s 16 departments (city council, administration, economic development, finance, human resources, planning, information technology, police, dispatch, fire, building & code enforcement, library, equipment maintenance, storm water, streets, parks & facilities).

Remaining money necessary for the 2019-20 budget will come from other funding sources, including state revenues, county shared funds franchise fees, utility fees and grants.

The draft shows the city’s police department has the largest departmental budget at over $3.9 million, followed by the fire department at roughly $2.8 million.

A budget workshop is scheduled for Aug. 26. Public hearings on the proposed budget are scheduled for Sept. 9 and Sept. 23.

Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe shared budget highlights during the meeting, including these items relating to employee benefits and compensation:

  • Total employee health care costs increased 9.7%
  • A proposed pay increase of 3.5% for all employees
  • An increase in cost of 15% for worker’s compensation costs
  • An increase in cost of 11% for property casualty expenses
  • Tuition reimbursement up to $2,500 annually, up to a maximum of $15,000 in total, for city employees

Big ticket items in the budget include:

  • Six fully equipped police vehicles totaling $310,000 funded through Penny for Pasco
  • A $300,000 side-loader truck for sanitation
  • A $267,000 final installment for a new fully outfitted fire truck, which has a total cost of $457,000

With talks ongoing with Pasco County regarding the possible consolidation of the Zephyrhills Fire Department into Pasco County Fire Rescue, the city manager told council members the new fire truck will be part of those broader negotiations, possibly to help offset MSTUs (Municipal Service Taxing Unit) levied through any merger.

“The budgets were prepared as if the (fire) department is staying,” Poe said. “We don’t know which direction we’re going this moment, so it was budgeted to purchase that truck and that will be part of the conversation with the county. They’re aware of it, so we’ll continue that conversation.”

Councilman Alan Knight told Poe the fire truck “ought to be a real strong thing in our negotiation” with the county.

“We contracted it. We put our name on it. We’ve got it. We’re going to have to eat that, so we’ve just got to understand that that’s going to be part of our negotiations,” Knight said.

Councilman Lance Smith said he’s pleased that the budget has more funds allocated toward employee education.

“I am glad to see more money put into training employees,” Smith said. “I mean, I think that’s something really important. I think that’s something we haven’t been doing, and I think the more educated an employee is, I think the more productive they’ll be.”

A push for more police training
Along those lines, Council president Ken Burgess questioned whether the Zephyrhills Police Department allocated enough funding for more advanced, hands-on training.

Zephyrhills Police Chief Derek Brewer said his department has invested in instructor training within his department and is able to offer more in-house training.

The draft budget shows $22,000 for police training programs.

“I bring it up every year about the police training. Especially in light of recent events, I want to make sure that in our training, we do more than just get on the computer and click a few buttons,” Burgess said.

“There’s a lot of things that can happen that we don’t want our officers to experience that for the first time in real life,” he said.

Zephyrhills Police Chief Derek Brewer pointed out training opportunities are often trust funded or free, but said the issue is more about being able to manage overtime associated with training.

The department has sent a handful of sworn officers to receive instructor training, so it is able to offer more in-house training programs, the chief said.

“Whether it’s advanced, in service or online or whatever it is, I can tell you we’ve been actively trying to send people to as much as we can,” he said.

Brewer also told the council the police department is considering participation at an active shooter response training center in Arizona.

“We were looking for something a little closer, but, of course, if that’s what we’ve got to do then that’s what we’ll use,” Brewer said.

In other action, the council approved the submission of three appropriations requests for projects to be sponsored by State Rep. Randy Maggard and State Sen. Wilton Simpson in the Florida Legislature:

  • $2 million septic to sewer project to a residential subdivision and homes along Sixth Avenue and Armstrong Street, and decommissioning existing septic tanks. The project will affect 67 existing properties with potential for expansion to additional properties in the future.
  • $1.2 million for an indoor/covered tennis facility at the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellness Center site. The indoor facility would also be used for other sports, such as soccer, and banquets and ceremonies.
  • $2 million for the purchase of roughly 1.3 acres of land at the Zephyrhills Municipal Airport for the extension of runway 01-19. The cost also includes relocating Skydive City’s existing RV parking east of Skydive Lane.

The city also is considering a fourth appropriations request for $2.5 million, to be used for U.S. 301/Pretty Pond Road intersection improvements. Those improvements would involve the relocation of a traffic signal that is currently located at Merchants Square and Townview shopping centers to a new location, at the intersection at Pretty Pond Road.

Council members discussed that topic at length. The aim of the improvements would be to speed up potential commercial development in the area.

Published August 21, 2019

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