The City of Zephyrhills anticipates a roughly 24.5% increase over this year’s budget.
The proposed budget for 2021-2022 draft is estimated at nearly $75.3 million.
That compares to this year’s budget of roughly $60.5 million.
The proposed budget also is significantly more than it was in the 2019-2020 and 2018-2019 fiscal years, which were approximately $66.3 million and $59.4 million, respectively.
The city’s proposed budget is based on a 6.35 millage rate, assessed on taxable value of aggregate property of just over $946.6 million within the city. At that rate, it is expected to generate about $5.7 million in ad valorem revenues, based on a 95% collection rate.
Within the proposed budget are anticipated leaps in the special revenue fund (estimated at slightly more than $13.1 million in the coming year, compared to about $7.2 million this year); the utility fund (estimated at nearly $22.8 million, up from slightly more than $16.4 million); and the utility impact fee fund (estimated at nearly $6.3 million, up from slightly more than $4.3 million), respectively.
Estimates for other funds are similar to previous years. Those include the general fund, at slightly more than $15.6 million; the Community Redevelopment Agency fund, at nearly $800,000; the impact fee fund at slightly more than $6.1 million; the airport fund, at slightly more than $8.4 million and the sanitation fund at nearly $2 million.
City Manager Billy Poe offered a comprehensive overview of the proposed budget to the Zephyrhills City Council, during its July 26 meeting.
Public hearings on the proposed property tax rate and budget are scheduled for Sept. 13 and Sept. 27, both at 6 p.m., at Zephyrhills City Hall, 5335 Eighth St., Zephyrhills.
Big-ticket projects abound
Poe during the meeting detailed some of the big-ticket items — including the multimillion expansion of the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis and Wellness Center, which comes in as the highest single-ticket item on the books. That project has a state appropriation of slightly less than $4.7 million.
The municipality received the state funds to construct additional outdoor hard tennis courts, as well as a 30,000-square-foot indoor tennis facility with the capability for other sports and activities, such as soccer, ping pong, banquets and ceremonies.
The budget item drawing the greatest reaction from council members involves the Simons Road Phase II project, to finish roadwork linking Eiland Boulevard to Fort King Road.
The project carries a price tag of $2.3 million, causing some council members to question its cost.
The work — funded through transportation impact fees — calls for paving about 800 feet of roadway. That’s compared to Simons Road Phase I, which cost about $2.1 million, but required about 1.1 miles of roadwork.
Phase I was completed in February 2020, paving Simons Road from Eiland Boulevard to the northern boundary of The Links at Silver Oaks.
Phase II will continue from the Silver Oaks subdivision to Fort King Road, making a continuous link between Eiland Boulevard and Fort King Road, creating a north-south connector, providing residents on the north end of town another option to get onto Eiland Boulevard.
The cost of phase II drew consternation from the dais.
Councilman Lance Smith was quick to question the cost, as did Council President Alan Knight.
Knight characterized the estimated cost as “almost ridiculous.”
Poe said he, too, was surprised by the figure.
He explained the cost — an engineer’s estimate — is attributed to the road section traversing wetlands and low areas, requiring box culverts and retaining walls, among other add-ons.
Zephyrhills Public Works Director Shane LeBlanc added to Poe’s explanation for the sticker shock, observing economy of scale and current market trends also need to be taken into account.
Given the area’s drainage accommodations, the project’s scope is more involved “than just a road section,” LeBlanc explained.
LeBlanc went on: “The engineer’s estimate was $2.3 million, and I also had a contractor look at the engineer’s estimate, and the contractor said in this day and age, that price is pretty close, so we’re hoping when we go out to bid, it’ll be less than that, but we’ve got to make sure we have enough in the budget to cover that.
“Historically, an engineer’s estimate is high, so that they cover themselves, and we were skeptical and had it looked at, and it’s checked out,” LeBlanc said.
One option would be to package the Simons Road Phase II project with several other citywide roadway projects to benefit from economy of scale with discounts on construction mobilization costs, Poe said.
“We might be able to get it a little cheaper, a little less expensive,” he reasoned.
Smith noted that allocating $2.3 million in the budget for the job might result in higher bids than it would, otherwise.
“We always understand, a lot of times, if you have $2.3 million in your budget, the bids are all around $2.3 million,” Smith said.
LeBlanc acknowledged that a project’s budgeted amount often is one of the first questions a contractor will ask.
But LeBlanc said if the city allotted too little for Simons Road Phase II, and all of the bids came in higher than the budget amount, the city would need to change the budgeted amount, anyway.
The public works director also noted that a 10% contingency is built into the scope.
Major utilities projects are on tap for the city, too.
This includes a $4 million allocated in the wastewater utilities fund for the Northside lift station and force main.
The project calls for a master lift station in the vicinity of 23rd Street and Otis Allen Road, then installing a force main at Otis Allen, County Road 35A and State Road 54, into another lift station in that area. Poe explained the project not only meets septic-to-sewer initiatives but also helps to serve the rapid development on the north end of town.
Other notable utilities projects include a pair of waterline extensions combining to total $3 million — and paid through loan by Florida’s State Revolving Fund (SRF).
One aims to create a waterline loop from Copeland Drive to State Road 39 and Tucker Road ($2 million).
The other calls for a waterline loop that includes Fort King Road from Simons Road to Phelps Road ($1 million).
The city’s proposed budget also includes $1 million in Penny for Pasco dollars for sidewalk improvements throughout town — a big-picture initiative to make the city more walkable for residents and visitors.
Poe put it like this: “I want to be able to create loops in our sidewalks and our trails, so as individuals want to go out and exercise, they have a loop and it’s not just an out and back, so we’re working on connectors, and also connecting our schools to our parks and our neighborhoods, so we’re hoping that $1 million will make a big dent in our needs for sidewalks.”
Meanwhile, another $1 million-plus in Penny for Pasco funds also will go toward park improvements, the bulk set for renovations to Hercules Park.
“We’ve been talking about Hercules Park, and the enhancements we want to make there,” Poe said, “so we feel that we can put $1 million towards that. We don’t believe that will complete the entire project, but that will get us going in the right direction and be able to do a large portion of that.”
While smaller in nature, Gateway and Jennifer Lane roadway projects also would be notable — as they represent the last dirt roads in city limits, Poe noted.
Those projects — funded through transportation impact fees — are estimated at $350,000 and $120,000, respectively.
The city manager also addressed various personnel matters during the budget discussion portion of the meeting.
The proposed budget calls for several additional positions, including a human resources specialist, senior maintenance mechanic, equipment operator, police officers, water distribution officer, wastewater maintenance/inventory technician and senior utility billing service representative.
The need for additional police officers — and how many to hire — yielded debate among the council.
Poe relayed that Zephyrhills Police Chief Derek Brewer has requested hiring six more officers, to accommodate the city’s rapid residential growth.
That would meet the International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP) recommended standards of 2.4 full-time sworn officers per thousand residents, Poe explained.
However, the city manager himself told council he’d prefer hiring just two officers for this upcoming fiscal year, with a plan to bring on additional officers in coming years.
Hiring two more officers this fiscal year would roughly give the city 2.1 full-time sworn officers per thousand residents, he said.
The starting salary for a full-time sworn officer is $44,500 plus benefits — bringing a total cost to the city at about $70,000 per officer, per year, Poe noted.
Brewer did not speak at the meeting.
Councilman Charles Proctor, however, was vocal about considering the police chief’s request, or at least meeting somewhere in the middle.
“Personally, with the growth, I would like to see more (officers),” Proctor said.
“I mean, I’d like to try to get closer to the number that (Brewer’s) requesting. I know six is probably undoable, but if we could do four, I mean, with the growth, I am concerned that we’re going to need more.
“I would definitely like to see more than two (officers), but I know sometimes we can only do so much.”
Also on the personnel front, Poe said the budget encompasses a 3% pay increase for all employees — a total impact of $194,618 spread across the general fund, CRA fund, utility fund, airport fund and sanitation fund.
Another subject at hand is ensuring the city is in line with the minimum wage increasing to $15 per hour in September 2026. Anticipated savings from the merger of the city’s fire department with Pasco County may help methodically offset salary increases each year, Poe noted.
Elsewhere, the city manager mentioned several possible add-ons that are not yet included in the draft budget:
* $2 million Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to purchase and install permanent generators for the city’s utilities department
• $100,000 to transform an inline hockey rink at Krusen Field into a short-sided turf soccer field
• $65,000 for place branding the city for marketing purposes
These items will likely be considered at another meeting or budget workshop. Meanwhile, Poe said he wants to schedule one-on-one meetings with each council member to gather additional input on budgetary needs and issues.
Published August 04, 2021