Hillsborough County Commissioner Brian Blair dropped a bombshell of a question Tuesday on the agency that oversees public land at Tampa's port: How about giving up millions in tax dollars each year?
Blair proposed that the Tampa Port Authority consider eliminating its property tax assessment on Hillsborough County landowners by 2010 or 2011.
Besides providing relief to hurting homeowners, he said, the tax break would help the chances of a referendum to extend the county's program to purchase environmentally sensitive land. The Environmental Lands Acquisition and Preservation Program is set to expire after 2010. It's funded by a property tax rate roughly equivalent to the Port Authority's.
"If they see (tax) relief in the same amount, it's a win-win program,'' said Blair, who sits as the County Commission's representative on the port board.
The Port Authority collected about $15-million last year on a property tax assessment of nearly 0.2 mil, or 20 cents for every $1,000 of assessed property value. The tax bill for the average Hillsborough home, valued at $240,500, was $47.67.
Port director Richard Wainio said his agency has worked to reduce its reliance on property taxes and last year cut the amount of taxes it received. Taxes, which make up 19 percent of the Port Authority's annual revenue, can be used only on capital projects, such as building ship berths or dredging channels.
He pledged to report on the consequences of eliminating the property tax during budget briefings in August for the coming year. "My hope is we can do that through (business) growth we achieve, not (fee) hikes on port users," said Wainio.
The land program has been responsible for the purchase and preservation of more than 43,000 acres since it was overwhelmingly approved by voters nearly 20 years ago.
County commissioners are considering putting a referendum on extending the program on the November ballot. But County Administrator Pat Bean expressed concern last week about posing the question to voters amid the current property tax revolt.
Steve Huettel can be reached at