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Pasco commissioners tell sheriff to hold the line on spending

NEW PORT RICHEY — Just two weeks ago, Pasco Sheriff Bob White made a bold move in a tight financial year: He asked for a nearly $4 million increase in his 2010-11 budget — more than half of which would pay for 28 new deputies.

But Pasco commissioners on Monday sent White a message of their own: Work with what you got this year. "We're just asking him to stay the same," said Commissioner Jack Mariano.

Commissioners voted 5-0 to give White the same funding he got this year, $85.5 million.

White's office released a written statement in response to the board's vote: "We are evaluating the county commission's vote and the impact on the sheriff's budget and as always Sheriff White remains committed to keeping citizens safe, without adding to their tax burden."

The other three constitutional officers who get property tax funding have already submitted reduced budgets. The board's decision could leave White making cuts, too, to cover the two increases that are out of his control: pension ($1.2 million) and health insurance ($475,000).

The other part of the vote Monday raised the preliminary total tax rate — that includes the general fund and fire district fund — by nearly 6 percent.

The tax rate for the general fund would go from $6.37 to $6.59 per $1,000 of assessed value. That's enough to generate $4.3 million that commissioners could decide to use over the summer to restore proposed cuts to services.

The fire rate would go from $1.20 to $1.43 per $1,000 of assessed value. That increase would generate enough money to give the Fire Rescue Department roughly the same budget as this year's, plus cover increases in health insurance and pensions, officials say.

Does this mean a higher tax bill for homeowners? That depends.

About 30 percent of the nearly 127,000 homeowners who qualify for the Save Our Homes tax cap stand to pay more in taxes despite the market value of their properties falling, according to Property Appraiser Mike Wells.

That's because their market value is still above the assessed value. 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 got.

Generally speaking, that 30 percent includes longtime homesteaders, said Wells.

But the other 70 percent of the homesteaded property owners no longer see any difference between their market values and their assessed value. In those cases, the owners can expect to see a decrease in their assessed values, on average around 11 percent.

And that could mean lower tax bills. A $150,000 home that dropped 11 percent in value this year would pay $87 less in taxes next year, even with the proposed millage increases.

Commissioners will spend the summer deciding which programs to plug with the additional revenue. But they cautioned county officials not to assume that all they need to do is hold the line on their budgets.

Commissioner Michael Cox made reference to Parks and recreation director Rick Buckman's pitch last week to generate new revenue by adding user fees at parks. "I want to see that continue to come forward," he said.

Reach Jodie Tillman at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Pasco commissioners tell sheriff to hold the line on spending 06/14/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 15, 2010 10:58am]
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