Tuesday, February 20, 2018
News Roundup

Pay raises, lower property tax rate included in new Hillsborough County budget

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners quickly signed off Thursday on a $3.4 billion budget with scant discussion, after a summer of little debate and without the annual last-minute run on turkeys.

Thanks to rising property values, the budget anticipates an additional $28 million in property tax revenues, which allowed the commission to approve pay raises for employees and dedicate some money toward housekeeping.

Here are five things to know about this year's budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1:

Your pocketbook: For the 21st consecutive year, commissioners lowered the property tax rate, albeit by a tiny margin. Here's the upshot: For the owner of a $165,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption, the savings amounts to 21 cents in county taxes, assuming the value of that house stayed the same. But because property values generally have risen, the Legislature still considers the lower rate a hike in taxes of 2.48 percent, which is how much the commission would have had to cut to keep revenues the same as the current year.

Commissioner Les Miller has voted against the budget in past years, arguing that the recent small tax rate cuts make a statement with little meaning for homeowners. But he broke tradition Thursday to make passage of the budget a unanimous vote.

More raises: For the first time since 2009, employees will get a pay raise of 3.5 percent, generally a cost of living raise rather than one for merit. Actually, select employees got raises earlier this year, mainly the lowest paid workers and some middle and upper managers whom County Administrator Mike Merrill said had been asked to take on additional duties. Recipients of the earlier raises don't get the additional ones.

Merrill also socked away another $5.9 million for possible additional raises next year, a moved discussed little before now, as he seeks to tie pay hikes more closely to performance and to help workers maxed out due to a cap in the pay range for their job. Any raises would require approval by commissioners, who could opt to spend the money elsewhere.

Roads and sewers: Merrill has balanced recent years' budgets in part by skimping on upkeep of roads and sewer systems. This year's budget attempts to return maintenance money closer to historical levels. So there's an additional $22 million for roads, more than half of which will go to repaving projects around the county. There's another additional $6.6 million for stormwater projects.

A major deficit remains for building new roads and adding lanes and fixing recurring flood problems. Commissioners are talking to the county's three city mayors about ideas to address transportation in particular.

Economic development: Commissioners focused much of their budget talks on judging priorities based on how much they assist job creation. That's why transportation is a priority. But they also set aside $5.7 million, much of it as a discretionary pool to use as enticements to lure new or expanding business.

A portion of the money, $250,000, is an increase in spending for the county's main business recruiter, the Economic Development Corp. Another $500,000 goes to the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance to continue job training and placement.

Odds and ends: $1.7 million was set aside to start the process of designating parts of the county as economic development areas. Animal Services is getting an additional $1.6 million to beef up its staff in an effort to reduce the number of dogs and cats euthanized. The commission agreed to postpone by a year a plan to eliminate an adult day care program that serves just over 30 people in favor of programs that serve more active seniors.

The commission agreed to chip in $1.3 million toward the new Courtney Campbell Trail, the recreational bridge alongside the highway that crosses upper Tampa Bay. The money is for enhancements such as rest stations, landscaping and shade.

Comments
The Daystarter: The St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race returns to a difficult climate; meet Stormy Daniels; and commandos come to Palm Harbor.

The Daystarter: The St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race returns to a difficult climate; meet Stormy Daniels; and commandos come to Palm Harbor.

Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today.• For the latest legislative coverage from Tallahassee, keep checking The Buzz, which is updated throughout the day by the reporters of the Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau.• We...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Romano: Until the Parkland shooting, lawmakers ignored requests for school safety funds

Romano: Until the Parkland shooting, lawmakers ignored requests for school safety funds

His words and his pleas are similar to what we’ve heard from others in recent days.Kids deserve to feel safe when they walk into a classroom in Florida. More security is needed. More boots on the ground would be helpful. Mostly, more money must be de...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Today: Senate to put its own stamp on Florida education proposals

Today: Senate to put its own stamp on Florida education proposals

The massive education measure known as House Bill 7055 has received plenty of attention during the legislative session, with its emphasis on decertifying teachers’ unions and using state-backed scholarship programs to steer kids away from public scho...
Updated: 9 hours ago
Following deaths from Irma, Florida looks to new rules for keeping nursing homes cool after outages

Following deaths from Irma, Florida looks to new rules for keeping nursing homes cool after outages

After national headlines and a public outcry over the deaths of 14 people at a Broward County nursing home after Hurricane Irma, nursing homes across the state are working to comply with new rules requiring them to have back-up power.But the process ...
Updated: 11 hours ago
St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

St. Petersburg regatta to Havana again buffeted by politics

The 2017 St. Petersburg-Habana Yacht Race was celebrated as more than a competitive regatta to Cuba’s capital city of Havana.The relaunch of the maritime competition cancelled since 1959 was hailed as a reflection of the detente started under Preside...
Published: 02/20/18
Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, calls relative after being reported missing

Girl, 12, sister of murder victim, calls relative after being reported missing

Seven months ago, Jalyssa Shannon’s older sister Janessa went missing, sparking a frantic search that ended with the discovery of the 13-year-old’s body in a Hillsborough County nature preserve and, later, the arrest of the girls’ father in her murde...
Updated: 6 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Feb. 19

Monday’s scoreboardSoftballSpringstead 11, Central 0
Updated: 8 hours ago

Lottery resultsNumbers drawn after 9 p.m. are no longer available by our deadlines. For results, go to tampabay.com/lottery.Pick 2, 3, 4, 5Mon., Feb. 19, midday:46 278 6907e_SRit78769Mon., Feb. 19, evening:59 597 4363e_SRit97936Fantasy 5Mon., Feb. 19...
Updated: 8 hours ago

Updated: 8 hours ago
Water Wars starting to simmer again in Tampa Bay

Water Wars starting to simmer again in Tampa Bay

CLEARWATER — A simmering feud between Tampa and the regional water authority avoided boiling over Monday, but little was resolved.At a Tampa Bay Water meeting, board members requested Tampa work with the agency on the city’s plan to convert tens of m...
Updated: 9 hours ago