Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas County officials predict a rise in property values for the first time in five years

For the first time in five years, Pinellas County officials expect to see an increase in property values next fiscal year.

Pinellas Property Appraiser Pam Dubov predicts a 3 percent rise, but county officials are budgeting for a 2.5 percent hike to be conservative. Last year, property values fell by 1.8 percent.

"It's very, very early in the process," Dubov cautioned Friday, "but sales prices are definitely up for most kinds of property and in most geographic areas of the county."

Even with rising revenue, the county's budget predictions remain gloomy.

The county's latest budget forecast estimates that its general fund will face a roughly $12.1 million deficit for the 2013-14 fiscal year, an improvement over projections last year for a shortfall nearly double that size. To fill that gap, officials are proposing to drain a special reserve fund they created to weather the recession.

"That has been the strategy from the beginning," Assistant County Administrator Mark Woodard wrote in an email. The county always planned to use the fund "to bridge the downturn and provide a soft landing as revenues improve."

If officials decide to use the reserve, they would still be left with a $1.4 million shortfall.

It's uncertain how the county would handle that gap. County Administrator Bob LaSala's budget forecast, which he will present to the commission Tuesday, does not call for tax hikes for the general fund. During budget talks last year LaSala made it clear that he believes residents' quality of life would suffer if the county cut more deeply.

There currently is $556 million in the county's general fund, which officials predict will endure a long-term shortfall of $15 million to $60 million per year if nothing is done to lower costs or generate new revenue.

Among the ideas for new revenue is a suggestion that the county find a new funding source to cover storm water costs, lifting the $3.1 million burden the county currently shoulders. LaSala's forecast also notes that the county could increase user fees or create a local business tax, known as an occupational tax.

LaSala is once again predicting that property taxes will have to be increased or expenditures sharply reduced to pay for the county's emergency medical services system. If changes aren't made, LaSala said, the EMS savings account will run out at the end of the 2015-16 fiscal year.

Pinellas' EMS system is funded mainly by a countywide property tax and ambulance user fees paid mostly by the tax-funded Medicare and Medicaid programs and private insurance. The money generated by that — an estimated $90.6 million this year — goes to pay the 18 fire departments whose employees are designed to be first on the scene of a medical emergency, the ambulance company and staff.

LaSala estimates that fire department costs — about $40.2 million this year — will rise by about 5 percent per year for the next 10 years. He estimates that the cost of the ambulance service — about $38.2 million this year — will rise about 6 percent a year for the next decade.

But all that could change.

A study of the system is underway and could result in changes that would reduce the costs. And, the contract with Paramedics Plus, the company that contracts with the county to provide ambulance service under the name Sunstar, is due to end in 2014 unless it's extended.

LaSala said negotiating a new ambulance contract could significantly alter the predicted increase in ambulance costs.

Comments

Pinellas is at the center of a rise in Florida flu outbreaks

By JUSTINE GRIFFINTimes Staff Writer Feeling a little sniffly or scratchy or stuffed up? It may be the flu, and you don’t want to wait around to see a doctor this year. This is not the time to write off flu-like symptoms, Tampa Bay area health offici...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Raymond James advice for small to mid-sized companies about activist shareholders? Prepare and listen

Raymond James advice for small to mid-sized companies about activist shareholders? Prepare and listen

Shareholder fights between activist investors and publicly traded companies are getting nastier, especially in some industries, and a lot of them don’t involve corporate giants like General Motors and Procter & Gamble.In 2015, according to Raymond Ja...
Updated: 14 minutes ago

Here’s the backstory of the Pasco casino boat operator whose ship caught on fire

By Zachary T. SampsonTimes Staff WriterLong before a shuttle ship from Tropical Breeze Casino caught fire Sunday off the coast of Port Richey, leaving one passenger dead, the company behind the operation was a source of controversy.The casino operato...
Updated: 24 minutes ago
Tampa judge denies ‘stand your ground’ claim in Lyfe Coleman murder case

Tampa judge denies ‘stand your ground’ claim in Lyfe Coleman murder case

BY DAN SULLIVANTimes Staff WriterTAMPA — A judge has declined to grant immunity to Reginald Bowman, the man who admitted last month that he fatally shot 18-year-old Lyfe Coleman and invoked the state’s "stand your ground" law to argue it was self-def...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Tampa Rep’s ‘Gnit’ is a sharp commentary on narcissism in the age of selfies

Tampa Rep’s ‘Gnit’ is a sharp commentary on narcissism in the age of selfies

By JULIE GARISTOTimes CorrespondentTAMPA — Tampa Repertory Theatre’s Gnit strikes gold for theatergoers who appreciate deadpan wit, clever wordplay and incisive commentary on the human condition.First produced in 2013, the retread of a Scandinavian c...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Top 5 at Noon: PolitiFact introduces Trump-O-Meter; St. Pete's apartment boom spreads; Panic after casino boat caught fire

Top 5 at Noon: PolitiFact introduces Trump-O-Meter; St. Pete's apartment boom spreads; Panic after casino boat caught fire

Our top five stories at noon on Tampabay.com.
Updated: 1 hour ago
Why ‘Phantom Thread’ is a bad fit as Daniel Day-Lewis’ final movie

Why ‘Phantom Thread’ is a bad fit as Daniel Day-Lewis’ final movie

BY STEVE PERSALLTimes Movie CriticPaul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread is passionless window-shop cinema, each static tableau lovingly arranged for display and easy dusting. Its centerpiece is a mannequin, albeit played by Daniel Day-Lewis, whose gi...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Thanks to Hurricane Irma, there’s a pass at Shell Key again

Thanks to Hurricane Irma, there’s a pass at Shell Key again

By CRAIG PITTMANTimes Staff WriterAT THE SHELL KEY PRESERVE — From a boat puttering along in the water, the sandy beach seems to go on and on. Then, abruptly, it ends at a mass of tangled, overturned mangroves where a great blue heron sits on an expo...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Panic ensued after casino shuttle caught fire, survivor recalls

Panic ensued after casino shuttle caught fire, survivor recalls

By HOWARD ALTMAN Times Staff Writer PORT RICHEY — Before directing them to abandon the burning ship, the crew of The Island Lady casino shuttle moved passengers around the 72-foot wood-hulled vessel as fire began smouldering on both sides, one passen...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Dow bursts through 26,000 in record seven trading days

Dow bursts through 26,000 in record seven trading days

The Dow Jones industrial average blew past 26,000 Tuesday for the first time ever, coming only a week after hitting 25,000 and showing further evidence that the long-running bull market is alive and well."There are several reasons for markets to melt...
Updated: 2 hours ago