Tuesday, January 16, 2018
News Roundup

Proposed Pasco budget awards raises, keeps taxes unchanged

DADE CITY — Pasco County administrators on Tuesday unveiled a proposed $1.2 billion budget that would keep the same tax rate, though it would spend more on employees and add 45 positions after $30 million in revenue losses since 2008.

"For the first time in six years, we're seeing an increase in funding," Commission Chairman Jack Mariano said. "We are now able to get our employees into a more positive position."

The budget, about 3 percent higher than last year's plan, awards county employees more than $7 million in pay raises.

The property tax millage rate of 7.3441 would stay the same, and the municipal fire service millage rate would also stay unchanged, at 1.7165. However, homeowners could still see higher taxes next year because of increased property valuations.

Commissioners voiced support for the raises, noting that many employees are leaving for higher salaries at other counties or in the private sector.

Sheriff Chris Nocco said the exodus has hit his office particularly hard. Reports show 27 staffers, most of them deputies, resigned or retired recently for better pay elsewhere.

"This is about putting food on the table," he said. "It saddens me."

The sheriff also sought $1.7 million to create a self-insurance plan to cut costs. Commissioners made no promises but said they would work to find money to fund the plan.

Tuesday's presentation was the first stop for the county budget, which will be discussed several more times before a final vote Sept. 23. The plan goes into effect Oct. 1.

Other highlights include an additional $8 million for road projects. It's not certain how that money would be raised. Commissioners are considering gas taxes, property taxes or both.

The pay raises, meanwhile, would amount to 1 percent per year of service, capped at five years. Employees with five or more years would get 5 percent pay raises. County workers received 3 percent raises last year but were required to boost their contribution to pensions by 3 percent.

The budget adds 45 positions. Development Services would have the biggest boost, with 21 new jobs, including two inspectors to focus on blighted areas. The county would also hire five bus drivers to increase service on State Road 54.

In other business, Pasco Sports' owners received a three-month extension to find investors to build a baseball complex in the Wiregrass area.

Managing partner James Talton said the 19-field complex is still on track but he needs more time so potential investors can evaluate the financial package. Talton said the plan, initially estimated at $34 million, including an $11 million county contribution, is now valued at $40 million to $45 million.

A chief reason for the increase, he said, is the need for a parking garage. He also wants to add top-notch amenities. He expects the complex to open in late 2016 or early 2017.

Contact Rich Shopes at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236. Follow @richshopes.

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