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The staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Welch proposes higher tax rate for Pinellas



CLEARWATER -- County Commissioner Ken Welch wants to raise the county tax rate.

He thinks it's necessary to reduce the severity of budget cuts for next year and suggested as much during a Monday night commission meeting.

 The reaction: cold silence from his six fellow commissioners.

"I didn't expect that long of a silence," Welch said.

It may not get much better when the board meets July 28 to consider his idea.

"Not interested," said Commissoner Karen Seel, echoing reaction from members Nancy Bostock and Calvin Harris, all of whom noted that times were tough on residents' finances. 

Welch wants to increase the millage rate for the county general fund, which covers most service costs, by a third of a mill. For property tax rates, the county currently charges $4.81 per $1,000 of assessed property. The proposed 2010 budget would keep that rate with $79 million in cuts to programs.

By raising the rate, Welch hopes to generate $20 million more. Keeping it the same results in $43 million less in tax revenue because of lower property values.

Welch proposes using $7 million to restore services that face reductions, such as animal control, housing or health care, and the remaining $13 million to stave off future budget deficits through 2013, according to budget office projections.

But his proposal would mean higher tax bills for longtime homeowners. Welch and budget officials used an example of someone without the Save Our Homes cap or a homestead to show that the county portion of the bill would drop $53 even with the rate increase. That's true because values have fallen steeply, so second-home owners and businesses could still pay less.

But two-thirds of single-family owners in Pinellas have homestead exemption and the Save Our Homes cap. The cap rules require assessed values to go up even when actual values drop, at least until they meet. So those homeowners -- including Welch -- would pay more taxes, which Welch said is justified.

"You're not actually taxed the cost of government, just like I'm not being assessed taxes for the cost of government, because of Save Our Homes," Welch said.

However, when the economy was better, Bostock said, counties kept the rate the same and still collected more tax revenue. Government routinely deflected suggestions taxes were going up because the rate stayed the same, or even lowered.

"I think we should be consistent," she said.

"I'm keeping a very open mind," Commissioner Neil Brickfield said, but he added that Pinellas voters have overwhelmingly voted for tax relief in recent years.

David DeCamp, Times staff writer


[Last modified: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 12:00pm]


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