DADE CITY — Pasco's property values are still falling, but the drop is starting to stabilize.
That's the message county commissioners heard Tuesday during an early look at next year's budget. Property values are expected to drop 2.5 percent, to $20.2 billion countywide. That means the county will collect about $3.3 million less in property taxes next year.
At a meeting earlier this month, county budget chief Mike Nurrenbrock said a "worst-case scenario" was losing about $5.6 million. But the more rosy projection came this week from the property appraiser's office.
"I'd say it's the best news since Christmas," said commission chairwoman Ann Hildebrand.
She acknowledged the county still faces challenges but said the numbers indicate home values are starting to flatten out.
"Who would have thought back in the heady days that we'd be rejoicing over this?" she said.
Besides the drop in property taxes, commissioners will also have to account for two new costs: $800,000 to help keep some sheriff's deputies when a federal grant runs out, and $945,000 to pay for increased retirement costs under a February budget agreement with Sheriff Bob White.
There are still several variables that could alter the budget shortfall, including increased health insurance costs for county workers and new pension rates set by state lawmakers.
Commissioners also got an early look at about two dozen projects that could be added to next year's budget. With most of the projects still in the idea stage, commissioners have several months to decide if they will make it in the spending plan.
Ongoing and proposed projects on the list total about $20 million. About $13.5 million of that would be spent on the Sportsplex project that was stymied last week when a contractor said it would not help build the multifield softball complex.
Other projects include:
• $33,000 to remove the Grove Park swimming pool in Elfers, which has been empty for two years. Hildebrand said she understands why the pool has to go (a bigger facility was added in New Port Richey) but said "it's a shame to see it go."
• $250,000 for a pilot project to study the materials in Pasco's waste stream and look at the feasibility of starting a countywide recycling program. County Administrator John Gallagher said commissioners have historically embraced the concept, only to balk once they see the cost of the plan. "People always say, 'Well, I don't know if we want to move forward at this time.'"
• $32,000 to pay for two automated machines to collect the new $2 parking fees at Anclote River Park and Starkey Wilderness Park, the county's most popular parks. The machines would allow people to pay with a credit card instead of cash. Martha Campbell, a Parks and Recreation official, said the machines would make it easier for visitors to pay the fee and would remove the "honesty factor" included in the current envelope method.
• $145,000 for 15 RV campsites at Withlacoochee River Park. Officials estimate a $20 per night fee would pay for the construction in about three years. After that, collections would help pay for more sites or for general park operations.
• $20,000 to expand the county summer camp program from six to seven weeks to cover more of kids' summer break. Additional fees would bring in about $30,000.