OLDSMAR — Last year, as other Pinellas municipalities experienced worse-than-expected plunges in their tax bases, Oldsmar emerged relatively unscathed.
It lost just 5.6 percent of its taxable value — the lowest in the county — as other communities such as Madeira Beach, Indian Rocks Beach and Indian Shores took hits in excess of 15 percent.
A year later, it seems that Oldsmar's fate has reversed. While new figures released this month show some improvement among the cities hit hardest in 2009, Oldsmar's tax roll dropped 10.4 percent, or $125.6 million.
"Oldsmar is the only real anomaly from last year," Pinellas County Property Appraiser Pam Dubov said.
The reason for the about-face can be summed up in one word:
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The Nielsen Co. is Oldsmar's largest employer with a work force of 1,500.
In 2009, the TV ratings company added $36 million worth of high-tech computer equipment, electronic data processors, furnishings and other tangible personal property to its global technology and information center on Brooker Creek Boulevard.
Nielsen spokeswoman Marisa Grimes said the company made the investment "to ensure we have the most up-to-date technology and equipment to meet our clients' evolving needs." She would not get more specific than that.
"When you have a corporate taxpayer like Nielsen and they add lots of new equipment," Dubov said, "it can really have a positive effect on that city's tax base and that's what happened in Oldsmar last year."
The infusion of new equipment "propped up" the city's value in 2009, she said.
"Oldsmar only appeared to go down so much less than everybody else," Dubov said. "If Florida did not tax tangible personal property, if the tax rolls were based only on real estate, then Oldsmar would have looked like everybody else last year."
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This year, Nielsen didn't provide that cushion. Without it, a more accurate picture of the city's financial landscape emerged when Dubov finished the tax roll July 1.
"Their real estate value (in Oldsmar)," she said, "went down similar to other places."
Mayor Jim Ronecker said the city had braced for an 11 or 12 percent property tax loss and is feeling the pain of every other city and county.
"We're slowing down some of our plans," he said. "We're not giving raises freely. We're doing everything we can to get by right now.
"We might have been more aggressive in our street pavement. We try to do preventive maintenance, and we're backing that off. A lot of things in the capital improvement plan get bumped back about two or three years. If we can get by another year with a truck, we're doing that."
But he said Oldsmar has no intention of reducing or eliminating city services.
"At a minimum," Ronecker said, "we're going to maintain our level of service that we have."
Rodney Thrash can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 445-4167.