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Rate hike concerns put Pasco sheriff's plan for special tax district on hold

DADE CITY — Commissioners put the brakes Tuesday on setting up a special taxing district for the Pasco County Sheriff's Office after questioning the increase it could impose on most taxpayers.

By setting up a separate property tax for the sheriff, the potential tax increase for a home in unincorporated Pasco with a taxable value of $100,000 would be about $40.

That projection had been reported multiple times in the Pasco Times. Budget director Mike Nurrenbrock provided the same figure during a commission discussion in New Port Richey this month.

The basic reason is that municipal residents would no longer be on the hook for the sheriff's law enforcement functions, so county residents would pay a little more to make up the difference.

At previous meetings, no commissioner pressed Nurrenbrock for more details about a potential increase.

But on Tuesday, Commissioner Jack Mariano, who had earlier suggested the setup would not increase tax bills, said a resident complained to him about the potential for the new district to raise taxes.

Now, after seeing an analysis of the projected tax impact on homes of various values, he no longer supports the municipal services taxing unit, commonly known as an MSTU.

"I'm not going to be supportive of this," Mariano said. "It's pretty clear to me it's a tax shift."

Chairwoman Pat Mulieri said she didn't know there would be a tax increase for unincorporated Pasco property owners.

"When we did all this discussion about the MSTU, the main argument was we're going to make it more transparent," she said. "Maybe I was sleeping; I don't know."

The reason is a little complicated, but it goes like this:

Officials estimate that if they move $52 million — the cost of Sheriff Bob White's law enforcement duties in the current year — out of the countywide general fund, they could reduce that tax rate by about $2.57 per $1,000.

They wanted to create a separate taxing district to pay for those functions, so property owners could see on their bill how much money was going to the sheriff.

But in order to raise $52 million through the special taxing district, that tax rate would have to be $3 per $1,000.

That's because city residents, who pay into the general fund, cannot be charged for the special taxing district. They already pay city taxes for police services.

Commissioners postponed a vote on the ordinance that would create the taxing district. They asked county staffers to gather more details, including whether Tax Collector Mike Olson could show the sheriff's budget as a line item on bills.

"My main goal is to let the people of this county know what they're paying for," said Commissioner Michael Cox. He said he supports the separate taxing district, but said showing the sheriff's spending as a separate line item might accomplish the same intention.

Mariano said in an interview that he'd been aware that unincorporated Pasco property owners could see slightly higher bills due to the MSTU. (He maintains that it's not a "tax increase" but a "tax shift.") But he said he had grown uncomfortable with the projected figures.

"I saw it and it didn't bring a lot of comfort to me," he said.

Commissioner Ted Schrader said he, too, wanted to get more information after hearing the figures from Mariano.

"I was aware there'd be a shift," from city property owners to unincorporated property owners, he said in an interview. "But I didn't go into the depth of analysis he's gone."

Jodie Tillman can be reached at jtillman@sptimes.com or (727) 869-6247.

Rate hike concerns put Pasco sheriff's plan for special tax district on hold 06/08/10 [Last modified: Tuesday, June 8, 2010 8:46pm]
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