First, the bad news: Taxable property values dropped nearly $4 billion in Pasco County this year.
Now, the sort-of good news: That's not quite as bad as officials had predicted.
New estimates released Friday by Pasco County Property Appraiser Mike Wells show countywide values of about $23 billion, down roughly 14 percent from nearly $27 billion last year. That figure includes nearly $621 million worth of new construction.
The new 2009 estimates translate into a roughly $22 million loss in property tax revenue if county commissioners were to keep the same millage rate, said county budget director Mike Nurrenbrock.
That's not as bad as the $28 million loss that county officials, assuming a 20 percent drop in values, had projected.
"It's a little better than the predictions we were looking at," Nurrenbrock said. "But we're still not out of the woods."
On top of the $22 million loss in property taxes, the county is anticipating lower revenue from other sources, too, including interest income, sales tax and state revenue sharing.
Pasco County had enjoyed more than 30 years of steady tax base growth until last year, when values dropped over 9 percent, Wells said. Values peaked in 2007 when they totaled around $30 billion.
One major theme this year, he said, is how vacancy rates for commercial and office properties have driven down values.
Wells noted, for instance, values were down for office properties in Wesley Chapel, which has a 40 percent vacancy rate in office space. Values are down, too, at Gulf View Square, which has seen the departure of some of its larger tenants at the mall, he said.
The new estimates will be used to calculate property taxes for the upcoming 2009-10 budget. County officials expect to present a draft budget to commissioners on June 12.
This budget season promises to come with unprecedented challenges as commissioners try to find a way to cover those losses. Options include cutting services and increasing the county's property tax rate, which has steadily decreased since 1995.
The so-called rollback rate — an increase to the tax rate that would raise the same amount of money as this year — has received lukewarm support from some commissioners.
County Commission Chairman Jack Mariano has also sent letters to the constitutional officers asking them to prepare for up to 15 percent in cuts. So far, only one — Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley — has turned in a draft budget.
Corley has proposed a $2.8 million budget for 2009-10, down nearly 11 percent from the current year budget of $3.2 million.
It was no easy task, he said, especially when the fiscal year includes a primary election as well as preparations for the general election.
He made some strategic decisions — printing up fewer ballots unless they are needed, for instance — and also slashed travel costs, froze salaries and won't fill the position of a soon-to-be retiree.
"At the end of the day, I'm putting a truly needs-based budget out there," Corley said.
The Sheriff's Office and the jail usually account for 55 percent of the property tax money in the county's general fund each year. Sheriff Bob White is scheduled to turn in his proposed budget on Monday.
Jodie Tillman can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 869-6247.