Pinellas residents who opened their mail last month and cringed at plans to raise tax rates will have their chance to sound off at a public hearing Thursday.
The 6 p.m. meeting is the first of two public hearings on the county's proposed 2013 budget. The second is Sept. 18, the same day the County Commission will vote on the final budget. If approved, it would take effect on Oct. 1, the first day of the new fiscal year.
There are two proposed property tax rate increases on the table: one to pay off a $11.4 million bill for Medicaid costs that was handed down from Tallahassee lawmakers, and a second to pay for the county's over-budget Emergency Medical Services program.
The first would raise the property tax rate by roughly 5 percent, from $4.81 per $1,000 of taxable value, to $5.01.
In an attempt to convince taxpayers that this proposed increase is the fault of the state and not local elected officials, the County Commission printed slim blue notes tucked into the Truth in Millage notices stating exactly that.
The remainder of the county's $13.9 million budget gap for 2013 would be filled with money pulled from reserves.
To cover rising EMS costs, County Administrator Bob LaSala is proposing to raise the tax rate by nearly 8 percent, from $0.85 to $0.92.
His initial plan, which called for a 22 percent tax rate hike, was quashed after it become clear it did not have unanimous support from the commission needed to pass.
The $1.69 billion budget represents a 2.3 percent increase from 2012, a boost sufficient to cover rising fuel and health care costs, LaSala has said.
During a series of budget workshops this summer, LaSala maintained that Pinellas County could not afford another year of cuts to services. In his initial budget presentation, he said the county had reached a "tipping point" beyond which quality of life would suffer.
In early conversations, a majority of the commissioners said they would support a tax increase to pay for Medicaid. They have shown less enthusiasm for raising the EMS tax rate.
Two commissioners, Nancy Bostock and Neil Brickfield, both Republicans running for re-election, have consistently opposed plans to raise tax rates. Neither has proposed a specific alternative.