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Fire tax rates expected to go up for some

By Anne Lindberg, Times Staff Writer

Thousands of people in unincorporated Pinellas County could see their property taxes go up as much as 44.9 percent over the next three years to pay for fire protection.

The projected increases are caused by escalating costs and reduced tax revenue from deflated property values. About 157,800 people in the so-called dependent fire districts, 12 unincorporated areas of Pinellas that look to the county for fire protection, would be affected.

Because the county has no fire department, it contracts with cities and districts to provide service to those areas.

The anticipated increases in fire protection varies according to district but, according to projections County Administrator Bob LaSala presented to commissioners last Tuesday, all 12 would see tax hikes by the 2014-15 fiscal year. This would be one of several taxes levied against property by the county, municipalities and special districts.

The increases range from a low of 7.2 percent in the unincorporated Clearwater area to a high of 44.9 percent in the unincorporated Dunedin area.

The rate jumps could be particularly harsh on dependent districts that already had increases this year.

Property owners in the South Pasadena area, for example, had a 41 percent increase this year and are projected to see another 42.6 percent leap by the 2015 fiscal year.

That would boost their tax rate to about $4.46 per thousand dollars of assessed taxable property value, just under the cap of $5 per thousand dollars of assessed taxable property value.

Some property owners in the unincorporated South Pasadena area have already asked county commissioners to let them secede from the South Pasadena fire district and go into the less expensive Gulfport district.

Taxpayers in the unincorporated area around Pinellas Park would also be hard hit. They saw no increase this year, but are expected to see a 38.6 percent increase over the next three years.

Double-digits tax rate increases are also in store for property owners in unincorporated Belleair Bluffs/Largo, the Gandy area outside of St. Petersburg, Safety Harbor, Tarpon Springs and High Point that lies generally between Pinellas Park and Largo.

Tierra Verde, which had a 10 percent increase this year — due in part to a $280,000 repayment for a new vehicle used on the islands by the Lealman Fire District — is expected to see a 9.5 percent increase by fiscal year 2015.

That would take its tax rate to about $2.09 per thousand dollars of assessed taxable property value, which is under the $3 cap on the tax rate.

LaSala said reducing the costs of fire service could help offset the tax rate increase, but it's likely that rates still will go up.

Reach Anne Lindberg at [email protected] or (727) 893-8450.