Last year, Pasco commissioners held off on sharp cuts to public services by raising the tax rate. But with another $17.6 million deficit looming, this could be the year the ax falls.
Expect plenty of jostling for funding this summer when budget talks kick off. Which is why you may want to put your two cents in early.
Commissioners are holding a series of public meetings, beginning Tuesday, to talk about spending priorities for the upcoming budget year, which begins Oct. 1.
The meetings are part of a public campaign that includes an online survey, television spots and talks with various community groups about the upcoming budget season.
Last year the county hired a consultant, which is helping officials overhaul the budget process to base it, in large part, on a ranking system that assigns scores to programs.
During the last decade's building boom, Pasco County commissioners, unlike their counterparts in some other counties, rolled back tax rates to offset swelling property values. But the values started dropping in the 2008 fiscal year, and officials expect that in the last three years they will have lost $11 billion in taxable value.
Over the last four years, officials say they've cut $17.6 million through hiring freezes, no wage increases for the last two years, internal reorganization, the elimination of positions and reduced hours and services.
Most of the spending up for debate comes from the county's general fund, which pays for such services as libraries and parks. Most of the other funds have certain restrictions on how the money can be used.
In the current year's budget, nearly 40 percent of the $146 million collected in property taxes went to the Sheriff's Office.
County Administrator John Gallagher told county employees at a meeting last week to prepare for another year of no raises, plus the possibility of layoffs. The county also plans to offer buyouts for senior and longtime employees, though it's unclear now how many would qualify.
Firefighting services, which are funded with a separate property tax only on property owners in unincorporated Pasco, are among the hardest hit. The department already has 40 vacancies, and officials are looking at a $2.7 million deficit if they keep the current rate, $1.11 for every $1,000 of taxable property value.
Reach Jodie Tillman at [email protected] or (727) 869-6247.