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Foreclosures, below-market property sales drain tax rolls throughout Pinellas County

CLEARWATER — Property values tanked worse than expected across Pinellas County this year because of foreclosures and below-market sales, particularly along the gulf.

The county's tax roll dropped 11.8 percent from 2008, factoring out new construction, according to Property Appraiser Pam Dubov's latest estimate. New buildings eased the loss by a hair, for a total of 11.1 percent.

The drops mean less money for local governments, which will hammer budgets for the coming year.

"Our budget is horrible, horrible," said Mayor Rick Baker of St. Petersburg, where the tax roll fell 11.9 percent.

In St. Petersburg's case and elsewhere, Dubov had estimated 10 percent decreases earlier this year. But the projection became gloomier because of a rise in foreclosure and below-market-rate sales in the final three months of 2008, Dubov said.

Most beach communities suffered even more because of the glut of vacant condominiums. Indian Rocks Beach lost 15.4 percent of its taxable value from a year ago.

City Manager Chuck Coward said Indian Rocks Beach had braced for a 10 percent decline, acknowledging the troubled condo market.

"We were anticipating some significant loss. This is a little higher than expected," he said.

The estimates are based on taxable property values as of Jan. 1, not the private-sector market this spring. The Property Appraiser's Office also used foreclosures, which spiked in 2008, to calculate values for the first time this year.

"It's the first time … because there were so doggone many of them," said Dubov, adding, "We've never seen numbers like this."

The appraiser's office is still reviewing market data and recent personal property tax returns, which were due last Friday. A certified tax roll — with more changes expected — is due July 1.

For example, appraisers are reviewing new downtown Clearwater condo towers with high vacancy rates. The city already lost 11.7 percent of its tax base.

The likely outcome: lower values that drop the city's tax base more.

"It is what it is," said City Manager Bill Horne, who was pleased the preliminary estimate wasn't lower.

Horne and other officials said they had begun preparing for even worse results. Indian Rocks Beach stands to see a $300,000 drop in revenue instead of $225,000, but should have reserves to cover the loss, Coward said.

St. Petersburg First Deputy Mayor Tish Elston said the city had been bracing for a 12 percent loss in property value. The latest numbers will have little to no impact on budget planning, she said. The city stands to lose roughly $20 million.

Pinellas County had based spending proposals on a deeper 13.5 percent reduction as part of $85 million in cuts.

"I'm hopeful that maybe property values haven't fallen that much this year," County Administrator Robert LaSala said. "But until the property appraiser is prepared to propose a number, it would be premature to work anything else."

Times staff writer Cristina Silva contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

FAST FACTS

Property values fall in Pinellas County

The county's taxable property value fell 11.1 percent this year, from $73.1 billion to $65 billion. Here's how some of Pinellas' larger cities fared:

City 2009 taxable value Percent drop

St. Petersburg $14.63 billion 11.9%

Clearwater $8.97 billion 11.7%

Largo $3.9 billion 10.2%

Pinellas Park $3.13 billion 8.7%

St. Pete Beach $2.3 billion 10.5%

Dunedin $2.03 billion 12.1%

Oldsmar $1.22 billion 5.6%

Seminole $1.16 billion 10.4%

Tarpon Springs $1.59 billion 11.6%

Treasure Island $1.51 billion 8.7%

Madeira Beach $970 million 15.7%

Indian Rocks Beach $893 million 15.4%

Belleair $707 million 9.4%

Redington Shores $542 million 14.2%

Foreclosures, below-market property sales drain tax rolls throughout Pinellas County 05/21/09 [Last modified: Thursday, May 21, 2009 11:54pm]
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