By Joe Potter
The focus was on public safety as Zephyrhills City Council members took their first in-depth look at the proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
The budget calls for the elimination of 11 full-time and three part-time positions as part of a belt-tightening effort during lean financial times.
Three full-time positions within the Zephyrhills Police Department — crime prevention supervisor, sergeant and school resource officer — already were vacant. City Manager Jim Drumm has recommended not filling those positions.
Councilmen Lance Smith and Charlie Proctor expressed concerns about the staffing at the police department following an Aug. 2 incident in which ZPD Officer Kevin Widener was shot at several times while trying to stop a speeding car.
Proctor said Widener and other ZPD officers deserve a large amount of thanks from the city and from the community for willingly putting their lives on the line.
Widener was not injured in the incident. Three suspects remained at large Aug. 9 A nationwide manhunt is on for their arrest.
The public should not get the perception there are fewer police officers on the street as the result of the budget Zephyrhills is considering, Drumm said.
A lieutenant within the police department is working on the road performing some of the duties done by the former sergeant. The school resources officer and crime prevention supervisor did not work the road and plans call for two additional patrolmen to be hired later this year, Drumm said.
The sergeant’s position may eventually come back if the city’s financial situation improves, Drumm said.
The City Council agreed Aug. 1 to tentatively set the city’s millage rate at $5.999 per $1,000 of assessed property tax value. This is the current tax rate for the fiscal year ending Sept. 30.
Approving this millage rate would mean many city residents would pay less in property taxes this year because the average value of property within Zephyrhills has declined by three percent.
City employees would receive 2.75 percent raises under the proposed budget. This would help to offset a 3 percent contribution they are required to make into the state retirement system.
Zephyrhills previously contributed to city workers’ retirement funds. A new law, effective July 1, now requires the city employees to pay into the retirement fund.
The council plans to discuss the budget again at its next meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Aug. 22, in City Council chambers. Also, public hearings on the proposed budget will be held in council chambers at 6 p.m. on Sept. 12 and Sept. 26.
In other business Monday, city council:
• Agreed to increase by $7,500 the financial support the city will provide to the Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, brining the total to $10,000.
• Appointed Zephyrhills High School Principal Steve Van Gorden to fill a vacancy on the Zephyrhills Planning Commission created when Marcus Price moved outside the city limits.
• Instructed City Attorney Joseph Poblick to prepare a Job Creation Incentive Ordinance similar to one Pasco County commissioners adopted in 2010, giving the city another tool to use in its efforts to attract businesses to locate in Zephyrhills.
• Learned the city has $1.5 million in the library reserve fund for expansion of the current library or construction of a new one.
• Learned the city has $3.2 million in the Zephyrhills Nursing Home Fund. Proceeds from this fund may be used to plug some shortfalls.