NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County property owners will pay more in property taxes next year after county commissioners Tuesday approved a $1.17 billion budget that rewards most county employees with a 3 percent raise and gives more money to the jail.
The fiscal plan takes effect Oct. 1. The increase was hugely unpopular with property owners who for months called, wrote emails and gave public testimony opposing the hike to county officials. In the end, though, the five commissions voted unanimously to support the tax rate and budget increase.
"Any time you talk about raising taxes it will always be controversial, but I am confident that the county is being run in a fiscally prudent manner," Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said afterward.
The plan raises the aggregate tax rate by 7.8 percent to about $8.93 for every $1,000 of assessed taxable value. The owner of a home valued at $150,000 with $50,000 in exemptions will pay about $66 more in county taxes, provided the assessed value remains unchanged.
About 10 people rose at Tuesday's meeting to speak against the increase.
"This is unconscionable what you are doing to people on fixed incomes," said Joseph Attard, 88, of New Port Richey, garnering applause from the crowd. "When is this going to stop? When are you going to reach a limit?"
Another speaker, Julann Roe of Dade City, said county employees earn $39,000 a year on average. That's $4,000 higher than the salary of the average worker in Pasco, Roe said.
"How do you justify the people you hire making more than the people you tax?" Roe said. "How do you justify taking more from people who make less than you do?"
Another resident, Rose Ann Bright of New Port Richey said: "You know, you're not the only ones raising taxes. The School Board will be having a good old time. And food is going up. Everything is going up. Where does it end? It's got to end."
The spending plan provides a 3 percent raise to most county employees. Firefighters will get a 1.5 percent increase. Officials said the pay hike was needed for employee retention. Most haven't had a raise in six years.
"Our employees deserve that raise," Commissioner Pat Mulieri said.
The budget also provides more funding for the jail to open its third floor to relieve crowding and hire more staff.
Not every budget request was approved and commissioners were under pressure to make cuts. At one point, commissioners considered closing two public libraries to save $1 million, but dropped the idea after hearing public opposition.
Among the cuts approved:
• A request for four additional code enforcement officers;
• Three months of funding for six new employees in the planning department;
• $250,000 toward a facilities master plan;
• $36,000 for the Public Information Office, including advertising, membership fees, printing, binding and reproductions, and promotions; and
• $500,000 by the Sheriff's Office for food, laundry and other items for the jail's third floor.