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New Pinellas tax roll estimate provides a bit of relief to governments

CLEARWATER — Pinellas County's tax base has crumbled less than expected, providing the county and some local governments more property taxes, a new estimate showed Tuesday.

Property Appraiser Pam Dubov projected the county's taxable property value will be 9.7 percent lower this year. That's less than the 11 percent estimate she offered in April and the 12 percent reduction that the county's budget office had begun planning for.

Earlier projections included a decrease in the value of business equipment — but that value actually rose, Dubov said.

Her latest estimates provide relief to the county and most cities, which are facing spending cuts.

St. Petersburg had been expecting a 12.8 percent drop in value over last year but now should see an 11.2 percent drop. The city will use the $1.1 million more in tax revenue to keep two pools open and buy a fire engine, which the City Council demanded, City Administrator Tish Elston said.

For Pinellas officials, the new estimate means the county can knock $7.1 million out of an $80 million deficit for the next two years.

"That's good news," said County Commissioner Ken Welch, who wants to stave off deeper cuts to public safety and health services spending.

Commission Chairwoman Karen Seel suggested using the money to avoid closing parks two days a week, as county officials had proposed.

But economic signals suggest the real estate decline could reduce values even deeper next year, Chief Assistant County Administrator Mark Woodard said.

Neither he nor Welch would say this year's extra tax money would stop a push for a $5 fee at popular Fort De Soto Park, or $3 fees to enter other regional parks.

"I'm saying it probably will not make a material difference in the numbers in a two-year horizon," Woodard said.

There's another factor helping governments raise money.

More than 123,000 home­owners who qualify for the Save Our Homes tax cap stand to pay more in taxes despite the market value of their properties falling.

In those cases, the state allows a home's taxable value to rise with inflation up to 3 percent if the home is assessed below market value, so local governments can "recapture" the savings some homeowners get.

This year, it's a 2.7 percent increase after being 0.1 percent last year. Even if property tax rates stay flat, those owners will pay more.

New Pinellas tax roll estimate provides a bit of relief to governments 06/01/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 2, 2010 8:24am]
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