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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.

Pay raises, lower property tax rate included in new Hillsborough County budget 09/19/13 [Last modified: Thursday, September 19, 2013 11:21pm]
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