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Drop in taxable values to mean loss of millions in Pasco budget

DADE CITY — In one scenario, budget director Mike Nurrenbrock projects Pasco County could take a $14.6-million hit next year to its general fund — the rough equivalent of wiping out libraries, parks and community services.

That's the cheery scenario.

Nurrenbrock on Tuesday gave Pasco commissioners a brief rundown of the potential shortfalls associated with another year of expected drops in taxable values.

His figures were only projections that assumed a 10 percent drop in the tax rolls and the same tax rates for the general fund and the fire services fund. Just to maintain the current revenue, commissioners would have to raise the tax rates by more than 11 percent.

Taxable values in the current year dropped by $3.9-billion, a roughly 14.6 percent decrease from the previous year.

County officials expect to firm up their estimates after Property Tax Appraiser Mike Wells on Friday releases his preliminary estimate of next year's taxable values. County Administrator John Gallagher said Wells told him he expected the drop to be less than 20 percent.

"The message is expect the worst and hope for the best," said Commissioner Ted Schrader.

If commissioners decide to hold the line on the tax rates, a 10 percent drop in taxable values would also translate into a $2.5-million loss to the fire services fund.

Pasco Fire Rescue has already lost 33 vacant positions in the current year. The department has been paying firefighters overtime to keep the stations staffed.

Chief Anthony Lopinto said Tuesday he is applying for a federal grant to replace those positions.

But if the grant isn't awarded? He asked commissioners Tuesday to consider raising the millage rate for the fire combat unit to fund 26 of those positions.

At the start of last year's budget season, commissioners agreed to go to the rollback rate — essentially, the tax rate needed to raise the same amount of revenue as the year before — which created a $13-million cushion that they used to restore cuts, sock away in reserves and, later, nibble a little off the final tax rate.

Tuesday's meeting provided a brief glimpse into how this budget season may go.

Lopinto, for instance, said he would need to hire a training officer for 911 operators in order to comply with state-mandated training and certification effective October 2011.

Schrader and commissioner Michael Cox suggested the county look into using a dispatch training officer already employed by Pasco Sheriff's Office, which operates separately from emergency services.

Later, commissioner Jack Mariano said he'd already been talking to many of the senior citizens who participate in the county's elderly nutrition program, which last year was slated for big cuts before commissioners ended up putting money back into it.

Mariano said he'd told the citizens that he couldn't speak for the rest of the board but that he was committed to keeping their funding level this year.

Schrader said he didn't think commissioners could make even those types of commitments. He said it isn't a sure thing that the board will agree to raise the tax rate again next year.

"That changes the whole picture," he said.

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Drop in taxable values to mean loss of millions in Pasco budget 03/02/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, March 2, 2010 9:04pm]
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