Monday, June 18, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco considers new tax districts for parks, libraries, public safety

DADE CITY — Faced with growing costs amid an expected voter-endorsed tax cut, Pasco County is considering changing the way it pays for parks, libraries and public safety.

It could result in 2018 voter referendums to create three new countywide tax districts, in addition to the existing tax unit that finances the Pasco fire department.

If voters agree, the new districts, with separate tax rates, would absorb costs now paid out of the county’s general fund, freeing up money for future law enforcement and other government operational expenses. The referendums are not required by law, but a commission majority said they wanted voters to have their say.

Current and past commissions have debated the wisdom of a special taxing district for parks, but a major impetus this time is the presumed outcome of a 2018 statewide ballot question to increase the homestead exemption an additional $25,000 for homeowners. If approved, county officials expect it will remove $8 million in property tax revenue from the general fund and $2 million from the county’s fire district under the current tax rates.

"We’ve got to find alternative funding sources,’’ said Bob Goehrig, the county’s budget director.

But consensus was hard to come by during a commission workshop last week.

Parks and recreation

A separate tax for parks could help build new parks, ease a $14 million backlog of deferred maintenance projects and allow the county to better maintain and replace its existing inventory of 35 parks holding 117 sports fields, 33 playgrounds, seven recreation or community centers, two swimming pools and 106 miles of trails. Construction of much of the county’s parks and library systems was financed by a voter-approved $23 million bond issue in 1986.

"It’s important because the county made a significant investment a long time ago, and it’s time to reinvest,’’ said Keith Wiley, the acting director of the county’s Parks, Recreation and Natural Resources Department.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey was his strongest ally.

"We can’t have slides falling apart — things falling apart,’’ Starkey said. "Key Vista? There’s not one premiere thing in that park except the view. We have let our citizens down by letting these parks fall apart.’’

Commissioner Ron Oakley also advocated for increased investment in parks, particularly to reduce the $14 million worth of delayed maintenance. Public support is there, he said.

"They want (parks), and they want us to take care of them,’’ Oakley said.

Commission Chairman Mike Moore and Commissioner Mike Wells Jr. called the discussion premature since the county has hired a consultant to do polling and community outreach to determine the public’s appetite for increased park spending.

Commissioner Jack Mariano said the county should consider higher impact fees on new home construction, an idea a board majority panned previously. He also floated the idea of using Penny for Pasco sales tax money for parks.

County staffers said a tax rate of .9124 mills, or less than 92 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, would bring in more than $20 million a year and cost the typical Pasco household $47 annually. The current county parks budget is about $9 million, plus an additional $1.5 million for the deferred maintenance work.

Libraries

The county’s library system is significantly smaller and understaffed when measured by Florida Library Association standards, and Pasco’s per-capita spending on library operations is half the state average. However, Pasco’s libraries are well stocked, carrying nearly 1 million items available to patrons, about 7 percent above the state recommendation.

The libraries now total 108,000 square feet, and a county master plan recommended adding more than 45,000 square feet of library space by 2019. A new library is planned within the Starkey Ranch development in a joint agreement with the school district and Wheelock Communities. But its annual operating expenses, borne by the county, are projected to be $700,000.

Restoring previous cuts to libraries and opening all branches on Mondays, adding in the Starkey Ranch costs and renovating existing buildings could carry an annual expense of $11 million, financed by a tax rate of .5072 mills, or just less than 51 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, according to the county staff. Building new library branches and adding staff to operate them would push the tax rate higher – .6515 mills to add two libraries or .8982 for four new branches.

Emergency services

A third taxing district could finance the county’s ambulance services and/or the emergency management operations and the 911 communications center, which comprise the Emergency Services Department.

The proposal calls for adding nine ambulances and nine-member crews for each vehicle because of the volume of calls handled by the existing fleet of 24 response teams. Expected first-year costs are $8.4 million.

Meanwhile, the state-controlled communications service tax, used to finance 911 operations, has dropped from $6.5 million to $4.7 million annually over the past eight years.

The emergency management component calls for building a catastrophic reserve account, buying generators, retrofitting and hardening shelters and adding a planner. It would be accompanied by eliminating the county’s hurricane impact fee of $248 for new homes built in evacuation zones.

Putting emergency services and the ambulance rescue operations into a single tax district would cost more than $20.7 million and carry a projected tax rate of .9486 mills.

Both Goehrig and Kevin Guthrie, assistant county administrator for public safety, told commissioners that the taxing districts would help the county with future law enforcement costs. Goehrig suggested the Pasco Sheriff’s Office would again seek an $8 million increase in its budget request for the next fiscal year while Guthrie predicted the sheriff would ask for 50 to 75 additional officers sometime in the next two budget cycles to staff a new patrol district.

The current fiscal year began Oct. 1, and, in an email, Sheriff Chris Nocco told the Tampa Bay Times it was too early to determine his agency’s next budget request.

"It is puzzling that Kevin Guthrie, who is not a member of the Sheriff’s Office, was speaking on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office in budget matters. We have a realistic view that a future expansion, to include a new district, is not occurring in the near future," Nocco said.

Commissioners already have the authority to create the special taxing districts, known as a municipal service taxing unit, or MSTU, but a commission majority said it did not want to proceed without voter approval.

At some point, commissioners also must determine whether the taxing districts will include the six cities in Pasco. The fire district excludes the cities of Zephyrhills, New Port Richey and Port Richey, which have their own fire departments.

 
Comments
Ex-Bucs WR Lawrence Dawsey worked with team during OTAs

Ex-Bucs WR Lawrence Dawsey worked with team during OTAs

The Bucs had four extra coaches during organized team activities last month as part of the Bill Walsh Diversity Coaching Fellowship, including former Tampa Bay receiver Lawrence Dawsey.Dawsey, 50, played for the Bucs from 1991-95, finishing his time ...
Updated: 16 minutes ago
Pasco Business Digest for June 22

Pasco Business Digest for June 22

Business digestBrieflyHOSPITALS RECEIVE AWARD: Regional Medical Center Bayonet Point and Medical Center of Trinity were recipients of Healthgrades 2018 Patient Safety Excellence Award, a designation that recognizes superior performance of hospitals t...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Top 5 at noon: Rick Scott weighs in on child separation controversy at the southern border; report: 40 percent of Florida will be exposed to flooding; and more

Top 5 at noon: Rick Scott weighs in on child separation controversy at the southern border; report: 40 percent of Florida will be exposed to flooding; and more

Here are the latest headlines and updates on tampabay.com:RICK SCOTT SAYS HE OPPOSES SEPARATING FAMILIES AT BORDER, BLAMES WASHINGTON FOR SITUATIONGov. Rick Scott weighed in today on the child separation controversy at the southern border, saying he...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa man drowns in waters near Gandy Bridge

Tampa man drowns in waters near Gandy Bridge

A Tampa man drowned Sunday night in the waters on the Pinellas side of the Gandy Bridge.According to Pinellas County deputies, 28-year-old Cruz Sales-Lopez was swimming with girlfriend Erika Fuentes Ambrosio, 33, near the northwest side of the Gandy ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Man caught in rip current, drowns off Lido Beach

Man caught in rip current, drowns off Lido Beach

A man who was swimming off Lido Beach got caught in a rip current and drowned Sunday night.According to the Sarasota Police Department, the unidentified man was swinning with a woman near Big Pass, a boater channel, around 10 p.m. before becoming cau...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Fifty years after he disappeared over Laos, remains of Northeast High grad return home

Fifty years after he disappeared over Laos, remains of Northeast High grad return home

ST. PETERSBURG — In November 1969, at a hotel in Bangkok, Thailand, Air Force Capt. James White and his wife Sharon enjoyed their last night out together, dining on hotel room service with family friends Neil and Janet Armstrong.It was four months af...
Updated: 1 hour ago
As USF-Yuengling bond grows, is SEC’s alcohol stance slowly shifting?

As USF-Yuengling bond grows, is SEC’s alcohol stance slowly shifting?

USF's expanded partnership with Yuengling — including naming rights to the Sun Dome — is only the latest part in an evolving relationship between college sports and alcohol, as my colleague, Joey Knight, wrote on the front page ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Hometown Pasco for June 22

Hometown Pasco for June 22

We want your news!Hometown Pasco is devoted to everyday life in our county, whether it’s snapshots from your family reunion, recreational sporting event, news from your last club meeting or just a few lines thanking someone for a job well done. You c...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Report: 40 percent of Florida property will be ‘highly exposed’ to flooding

Report: 40 percent of Florida property will be ‘highly exposed’ to flooding

One of Florida’s biggest draws is also one if its biggest liabilities — its coastline. A new report projects that Florida is at the greatest risk of any state for tidal flooding caused by rising sea levels. And Tampa Bay faces some of the greatest ri...
Updated: 1 hour ago
He told his friends his vest was stab-proof and offered to demonstrate. It wasn’t.

He told his friends his vest was stab-proof and offered to demonstrate. It wasn’t.

Five days after his 22nd birthday, Jordan Easton was celebrating with friends at a house in northeast England when he began talking about the vest he was wearing. It was stab-proof, Easton allegedly announced. He offered a demonstration.But the vest ...
Updated: 2 hours ago