It looks as if the gloom of the Great Recession is finally starting to lift for Pasco County property values.
Estimates for the 2014-15 budget year released by the Pasco Property Appraiser's Office show the county's tax base is $20.1 billion, which represents about a 3.75 percent increase over the current year's base. Except for Dade City and the town of St. Leo, valuations for Pasco's other cities also increased slightly.
"There's really nothing exciting here," said Property Appraiser Mike Wells, who has served in the job for nearly 20 years. "But the good news is if you consider tax values starting to increase, that's a good thing."
Last year, county revenues were essentially flat after several years of declines from the housing bust and its fallout.
"In general, we are going through budget meetings right now to determine the priorities of the county and won't have a full picture of what we might propose for restoration closer to the July time frame," when actual revenues are available, said Heather Grimes, assistant county administrator for internal services and the county's top budget writer. The county uses the figures as it begins its budgeting process for the new fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.
Port Richey values inched up about three-fourths of a percent, while New Port Richey, which took a huge hit last year when Community Hospital moved out and reopened in Trinity, saw its base increase by about a quarter of a percent.
Wells said Port Richey's values reflect its coastal location.
"There's a lot of waterfront property in Port Richey," he said. "It has a tendency to go up first."
But he said most of the growth is being driven by new projects in Land O'Lakes and Wesley Chapel. "That's where people want to live," he said.
This year's biggest decline was in St. Leo, which went from about $38 million to $10.5 million. Leaders expected the decrease, as it reflected the de-annexation of homes in upscale Lake Jovita Golf & Country Club. Town leaders favored the move, which required special state legislation passed this year.
Zephyrhills saw an increase of 0.01 percent to just over $587 million, but leaders were cheering nonetheless.
"It looks like it's starting to come back," interim City Manager Steve Spina said.
In Dade City, the mood was less sunny.
"That's not good news," City Manager Bill Poe said when told about the nearly half percent decline, from $253.2 million to $252.1 million.
Wells' top aide, Wade Barber, attributed the decrease to the closing of Pasco Motors dealership on the city's north side as well as equipment depreciation at the glycerin plant at the Dade City Business Center.
Poe said the decline may affect the Community Redevelopment Agency instead of the general fund, as money from certain properties is put into that pot.
San Antonio posted the largest percentage increase over last year, coming in at about $49.4 million, a bump of 4.55 percent.
Wells said the overall amount reflects about $367 million in new construction across the county. That's a far cry from the boom times.
"When we were really cooking, it was closer to a billion," he said.
During a tour of the county on Wednesday, Wells said he saw plenty of busy construction workers, as well as "help wanted" signs for a plumber and experienced roofers.
"This is an indication things are turning around," he said.