TAMPA — After years of enduring recession-induced pain, layoffs and wage freezes, Hillsborough County could give raises for the second year to thousands of government employees.
And homeowners could see a tiny easing of the countywide tax rate for the 22nd straight year.
County Administrator Mike Merrill formally presented the $3.95 billion 2014-15 budget to county commissioners Wednesday, opening a summer-long discussion about the spending plan that begins Oct. 1.
His budget calls for raises for 5,100 county employees, averaging about 4 percent and costing about $13 million.
The raises are performance-based, Merrill emphasized — meaning some employees could get more than the average, and some could get less or no raise at all.
The recommended budget incorporates a 6.6 percent increase in local property values this year, which will send an estimated $35.8 million in extra revenue into county coffers. The countywide tax rate is tentatively set at about $10.75 for every $1,000 of taxable value.
Many county employees got a 3.5 percent raise last year, the first countywide pay bump since 2009.
"I think the community, this board, and all of my staff are going to be very proud of this budget, given what we've been through over the last four years," Merrill told commissioners.
Commissioners unanimously accepted the recommended budget, 7-0, and lauded Merrill for prioritizing public safety, preserving county infrastructure and financial reserves and spending on economic development.
Among new spending: $1 million to replace aging playground equipment, $1.1 million for fire station renovations and replacements, and $150,000 for a motion picture film incentive fund.
The single biggest expense, as usual, is the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office's budget — $386 million, up from $379 million.
The $3.95 billion budget is up $463 million from last year but most of that ($330 million) is due to a change in accounting practices, Merrill said, and does not mean an actual increase in spending.
"You've done a yeoman's job," Commissioner Les Miller told Merrill.
"And I've been on some bodies that, when there was an increase (in revenues), spent like drunken sailors," said Miller, who has previously served in the Legislature.
There will still be several budget-related meetings, including a workshop June 25 and a public hearing July 17, before the commission will vote on the finalized budget twice in September.
Will Hobson can be reached at (813) 226-3400 or firstname.lastname@example.org.