Higher tax roll burnishes Pasco County budget plan

The proposed county budget includes $1 milltion for repairs to county parks.   Pictured is the playground at Starkey Wilderness Park that was closed last year. Commissioners are expected to set a status quo property tax rate at their July 10 meeting in Dade City. .
The proposed county budget includes $1 milltion for repairs to county parks. Pictured is the playground at Starkey Wilderness Park that was closed last year. Commissioners are expected to set a status quo property tax rate at their July 10 meeting in Dade City. .
Published July 2 2018
Updated July 2 2018

ST. LEO — Pasco County’s property tax rolls grew 9.51 percent over the past year, a higher figure than previously projected. It will bring a windfall to local government and likely ease upcoming budget discussions among county commissioners.

The higher values — Property Appraiser Gary Joiner in early June estimated an 8.51 percent increase — will be taken into account July 10, when commissioners are scheduled to set the tentative tax rate for the coming year.

At a June 26 budget workshop at Saint Leo University, commissioners said they would authorize status quo tax rates of 7.6076 mills for the general fund and 1.8036 mills for the fire department. A mill is $1 of tax for every $1,000 of a property’s taxable value.

It will be the third consecutive year of steady property tax rates. However, homeowners would still pay slightly higher taxes because of a 2.1 percent increase in property values allowed under the Save Our Homes exemption, tying assessed values of homesteads to the consumer price index.

The larger tax rolls are attributed to increasing values of existing properties and new construction fully assessed for the first time. Florida Hospital Center Ice, Costco, Holiday Inn Express and Ford’s Garage, for instance, all opened for business in 2017 in the Lutz-Wesley Chapel area and appear on property tax rolls for the first time.

The tax rolls are expected to generate approximately $11.8 million in new revenue for the county’s general fund, a figure that commissioners were unaware of during the budget workshop.

Even the preliminary numbers allowed commissioners to build a budget heavy on public safety spending. Commissioners agreed to fully fund Sheriff Chris Nocco’s $132 million budget request; hire 16 staffers for the 911 emergency communications center; add ambulance services in Holiday, add a fire station in Wesley Chapel and hire approximately 40 new firefighters to reduce the mandatory overtime required of the current staff.

The proposed budget included money to restore Monday operating hours at library branches in Dade City and Hudson. It also includes a still-to-be-determined fee for competitive sports teams to add personnel and supplies to better maintain athletic fields at county parks.

Separately, commissioners said they wanted to honor a request from the sheriff and Tax Collector Mike Fasano to set aside money for a 6,100-square-foot training center at Safety Town to be built with inmate labor; increase funding to the United Way of Pasco to assist residents in emergencies; and bump up planned contributions to the Pioneer Florida Museum & Village in Dade City and the West Pasco Historical Society’s Rao Musunuru MD, Museum and Library in New Port Richey.

About the only project that didn’t get financing was a $2.4 million plan for additional temporary housing for inmates at the county detention center in Land O’ Lakes. Currently, the county spends $73.50 per inmate, per day to house 60 inmates in Seminole County. In November, voters will be asked to approve a bond issue for a 1,000-bed jail expansion. The temporary cells — trailer-like housing — would still be needed if the bond issue is approved.

The jail expansion is one of four bond issues, totaling $241 million, voters will be asked to consider on the November ballot. The referendums also include questions about: borrowing to build four new fire stations and rebuild five others; modernize libraries; and complete approximately $20 million worth of maintenance at existing parks.

If all four referendum questions are approved, the new property taxes would total .6107 mills, or less than 62 cents per $1,000 of taxable property value. The county projected it will cost the owner of a $100,000 home $30.54 a year by the time the borrowing is completed.

The proposed budget also included $1 million to try to reduce the $24 million backlog of maintenance projects at county parks.

"That’s not even treading water to put that 1 million (dollars) in there. We’re going to be slipping underwater again,’’ Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said at a June 5 budget discussion.

The sentiment was repeated at Saint Leo when commissioners wondered about the ability to finance future improvements if voters reject the referendum.

"I don’t want to see parks closing,’’ said Starkey.

"None of us do,’’ said Chairman Mike Wells Jr.

Commissioners plan an additional budget workshop in August and must hold two public hearings before final adoption of the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Contact C.T. Bowen at ctbowen@tampabay.com or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2

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