Wednesday, January 24, 2018
News Roundup

Pasco commissioners consider new projects in face of budget crunch

DADE CITY — Pasco County residents should expect to pay more in property and gasoline taxes if the county gets all of the $5 million in new initiatives on the staff's wish list.

Keeping the property tax rate the same will not be enough even to pay for state-mandated increases in pension contributions, which total slightly more than $4 million.

Going to the so-called "rollback rate," which would keep tax revenues stable, would raise only enough for the increased pension requirements. Nothing more.

If county commissioners agreed to include everything being requested in the 2013-14 budget, it would cost the owner of a $150,000 home with $50,000 in homestead exemptions an extra $87.

Heather Grimes, assistant county administrator for internal services, told commissioners that raising the property tax rate to that level, which is 7.8360 mills, would require a unanimous vote. The current county millage is 6.8623. It does not include taxes levied by the school board or cities. A mill is $1 for every $1,000 of assessed value.

"We wanted to give you the ugly picture first," she said. "That's the worst-case scenario."

Interim County Administrator Michele Baker said commissioners could always set the tax rate high on July 23 and "whittle down from there."

"You've done it that way for the last couple of years," she said. "You have the rest of the summer to knock it back."

Staffers gave commissioners a first look at the new programs and positions they are recommending for the upcoming fiscal year, which starts Oct. 1. It includes 14 items given top priority by top staff.

Those range from $125,000 for a new study done by the Urban Land Institute, a group of development experts whose 2008 study resulted in a comprehensive overhaul of land-use rules, to $294,556 to beef up code enforcement and a $650,000 facilities master plan for the next 20 years. It also called for a $300,000 to develop a "virtual shell building," which would provide plans for new businesses to build quickly.

Also on the list was $233,713 for a new public communications office, which would include the money needed to continue to broadcast county meetings online and on cable television.

Previously, broadcasts were paid for with franchise fees from telecommunications companies, but state lawmakers passed a bill ending those in 2008.

"At the end of 2013, there will no longer be a funding source," said Eric Keaton, who directs tourism and public communications. "In order for us to maintain the programs we have, we need to fund this. Otherwise, what we have on the web will go away."

The budget also includes programs that would rely on an additional nickel-per-gallon gasoline tax. Those include a pavement management system that would use a software program developed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as well as a mobile van to evaluate road surfaces. The plan would also use new methods of fixing roads, such as cleaning cracks with compressed air and sealing them with hot tar. Another gas-tax program would create a two-person department to handle an incentive program for residents who have failed to pay for paving assessments.

Commissioners did not commit to any programs or tax increases Tuesday. The final draft budget is to be presented July 9.

"I appreciate all the effort from staff," Commission Chairman Ted Schrader said. "I think we need some time to study it."

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