Cities and towns across the country are gearing up for budget cuts because of prolonged COVID-19 shutdowns, but that isn’t true in Zephyrhills.
Zephyrhills City Manager Billy Poe said the city is in good enough shape financially to handle any lingering effects of the shutdown for the rest of this fiscal year, and for next fiscal year, too.
He provided that reassuring news to city council members at their regular meeting on June 8.
Although state revenues shared with local governments could be reduced by 50% for the months of April, May and June, Poe said that’s “not a super larger part” of the city’s roughly $66 million budget.
The city had larger-than-anticipated revenues at the beginning of the year, which helps to offset lower state revenues, Poe said.
He also noted that some big-ticket purchase items came in under budget.
Plus, the city has flexibility to slow down some city projects that are less critical, he said.
“Talking to the finance director I think we’re going to be OK,” the city manager told the council. “There’s some money that we can move around, so there will be a decrease, but I think we’re going to be OK,” Poe said.
Meanwhile, as the city prepares its 2020-21 fiscal year budget, Poe has directed city department heads “to really hold the line” when prioritizing needs and projects.
Besides the negative revenue impacts caused by COVID-19, the city also is facing higher health care and retirement costs for next fiscal year.
The millage rate will be set during the first week in July. The city will hold two public hearings on its budget, which must be adopted by Oct. 1.
On the upside, the city manager noted a preliminary estimate from the Pasco County Property Appraiser’s Office shows the taxable value of the city up about $42 million, with $35.7 million in new construction value.
“What it’ll do is offset some of those reductions from the state, those lost revenues as a result of COVID-19,” said Poe.
Council swearing-in, reorganization
Like other government organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic forced the Zephyrhills City Council to hold virtual call-in meetings over the past two months or so.
That all changed June 8, when council members gathered inside the Zephyrhills City Hall chambers, for the first time since March 23.
The move came at an appropriate time, as City Clerk Lori Hillman administered the oath of office to Mayor Gene Whitfield and Councilman Alan Knight, who retained their seats since being declared elected unopposed.
Whitfield has held the mayor chair since 2014, when Danny Burgess resigned to run as the area’s state representative in Tallahassee. Whitfield has owned Whitfield Funeral Home in Zephyrhills the past 25 years. He also is former director of The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce.
Knight, first elected to Council Seat 2 in 2014, is a retired educator who’s worked mainly in Pasco County Schools as a teacher, coach and administrator.
The swearing-in ceremony also coincided with some council reorganization, which happens each year.
Council Vice President Charlie Proctor was elevated to the role of council president, taking over for Councilman Ken Burgess. Councilwoman Jodi Wilkeson was appointed council vice president.
As council president, Proctor will be responsible for signing official city documents and chairing council meetings, otherwise serving as the leading voice in business agenda items. He last served as council president in 2014.
Proctor commended Burgess.
Said Proctor, “First of all, I would like to thank former Council President Ken Burgess for doing an amazing job this past year. We really had a rough year, a lot of tough decisions we had to make as a council. Not only that, we had to go through this virus that had us meet online, and it was very difficult, and I think Council President Burgess did an amazing job, along with our staff.”
Liaison appointments were decided, too. Burgess was chosen to sit on the Pasco County Tourist Development Council (TDC), in addition to serving as an officer with The Greater Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce. Other roles remained in place — Proctor serving on the Ridge League of Cities; Wilkeson on Main Street Zephyrhills; and Councilman Lance Smith on the Pasco County Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), with the mayor serving as an alternate.
The council also:
• Approved the last plat for Silverado Ranch subdivision, otherwise known as Phases 10B and 11C, situated on the northern boundary of the development
• Accepted an $85,000 facilities grant United States Tennis Center (USTA), for costs related to the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis & Wellbeing Center, 6585 Simons Road, Zephyrhills. The nearly $5 million project is slated to open in July and will include 11 tennis courts, eight pickleball courts and four padel courts, among other features.
• Passed a second reading ordinance and public hearing consenting to the inclusion of the city’s boundaries into the Pasco County Municipal Service Taxing Unit (MSTU) for fire rescue services.
Published June 17, 2020
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