Monday, December 18, 2017
News Roundup

Pasco County budget writers propose increases in property and gas tax rates

DADE CITY — Pasco residents could be paying higher property tax rates and a nickel a gallon more for gasoline next year in exchange for few additional services under a spending plan proposed Tuesday.

Under the $1.16 billion proposed budget, park visitors would still have to pay a $2 per vehicle fee, and library hours would not get extended. Most county employees, however, would get a 3 percent raise — their first in about six years — and Sheriff Chris Nocco would get enough money to open the third floor of the county jail.

"It's a flat budget," County Administrator Michele Baker told commissioners. "It gives a little bit back to our employees … but in general what we are talking about here is maintaining current levels of services."

Budget writers propose to raise the rate for the general fund, which pays for county operations not supported by fees, from 6.863 to 7.499 mills. The municipal fire service unit, which pays for fire and rescue services, would go from 1.541 mills to 1.717 mills.

A mill represents $1 for every $1,000 of taxable value. So, for the owner of a home valued at $150,000 with $50,000 in exemptions, the two changes would translate to an $82 tax increase. The increase in gas taxes is estimated to cost each driver about $65 a year and would raise $5.9 million between January and September.

The rates do not include taxes levied by city councils or the Pasco County School Board, the Southwest Florida Water Management District or other taxing authorities.

Baker said not raising the tax rate would mean $17 million in cuts to services. Even the so-called "roll back rate," which would generate the same amount of revenue as in the current fiscal year, wasn't enough to cover the additional $4 million in contributions to the state retirement program that Florida lawmakers mandated this spring.

The fire rate also had to rise just to keep the reserves from drying up, she said. For the past seven years, the department had dipped into reserves to cover expenses. The bump in that rate also includes a 1.5 percent increase for unionized firefighters, who received raises in years when other county employees didn't, county officials said.

The budget includes nearly $1.9 million for a jail expansion. Earlier this year, Nocco included that as part of a $6.2 million overall increase. Budget writers found the jail money by allowing Nocco to keep the nearly $2.3 million that he had been expected to return to the county to offset the cost of a combined 911 center.

Despite the "flat" bottom line, the budget includes money for 12 new programs, including $294,556 for four more code enforcement officers.

It also includes $233,713 for a public information office that would include one employee and the money to continue televising meetings.

In anticipation of an improved economy, another $259,080 was allotted for positions in planning and development services.

Commissioners have until July 23 to set a maximum tax rate and until late September to finalize the budget.

Some have already expressed concern about aspects of the budget, most notably the additional money for code enforcement. Three of the five said they disapproved.

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