Pinellas County commissioners lean toward raising property taxes

Four of the seven County Commissioners in Pinellas said Monday that they would support some form of a property tax rate increase next year.

Exactly what it would look like remains to be discussed — the board will meet this morning — but in interviews, a majority of the commissioners said adding 25 cents to the current rate was the only practical way to pay off the county's Medicaid bill, which it inherited from the state.

It has been more than a decade since Pinellas raised its countywide property tax rate, though other rates have inched up in recent years, including the tax that pays for emergency medical services, a growing cost the county has struggled to contain.

A proposal to increase that tax rate is on the table again this year, but because the suggested increase of 22 percent crosses a threshold set by the state, it would require a unanimous vote, which it is unlikely to get. Several commissioners have already balked at the idea of raising this rate for the second time in two years.

LaSala's proposal to raise the countywide tax rate to $5.06 for every $1,000 of assessed property value, up from $4.81 in 2012, only requires a simple majority. And most of the commissioners are already supportive.

In May, Commissioners Ken Welch, Susan Latvala, and Norm Roche, voted in favor of LaSala pursuing some form of tax rate increase, while Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield voted against it.

Commissioner John Morroni, who was not present for the meeting, told the Times that he would back a 5 percent property tax rate increase, with the proviso that it expire the moment the county's Medicaid bill is paid off.

"It needs to have a sunset date or I wouldn't be interested in it," he said.

Roche said he would be open to using the county's reserves to pay the Medicaid bill, but could also support a limited tax increase: "What I won't support is an increase into perpetuity," he said.

Commissioner Karen Seel, who in May said she would need to see the proposed budget before making a decision, said this week that she is still undecided.

"I haven't really made up my mind, I'd like to see if there's other places to pull the moneys from," she said.

Pinellas County commissioners lean toward raising property taxes 07/17/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, July 17, 2012 12:13pm]

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