Wednesday, February 21, 2018
News Roundup

St. Leo commissioners discuss reducing tax burden

ST. LEO — Two months after their election to the Town Commission, Lake Jovita residents James Wells and Robert Inslee made their first pitches Monday night for spending and tax cuts for town residents.

"If we were starting this town from scratch, what would we do?" Inslee asked his colleagues during a workshop.

Wells and Inslee have complained that upscale Lake Jovita has been underrepresented on the commission. Much of the subdivision is in unincorporated Pasco County. But about 83 homes — about 10 percent of the lots — are inside the city limits.

St. Leo has only 1,300 residents and an annual budget of $1.5 million. Its millage rate means property owners pay $1.15 in tax for each $1,000 of assessed, nonexempt real property.

The owner of a $180,000 home pays the city $207 a year, not big money but still the object of discontent in Lake Jovita, which shoulders 80 percent of the city's tax burden.

The discontent has led to discussions in the subdivision about leaving the city. Wells and Inslee have said that is not the direction they seek.

Wells asked for city staff to take a look at whether the town can legally impose a zero property tax rate on its residents. Commissioner James Hallett said doing so could cut the city off from some financial incentives it receives from the state for collecting property taxes.

Town Clerk Joan Miller pledged to provide commissioners next month with a report on whether that is the case and to determine tax collections if the millage rate were reduced.

Though a property tax cut could be possible, commissioners learned a contract with the Pasco County Sheriff's Office for law enforcement may be harder to shake.

Currently, St. Leo and its neighbor San Antonio — the only two municipalities in the county without a police force — pay the sheriff's office $85,000 a year for a deputy to patrol 12 hours a day.

Some residents have grumbled over the contract, saying they are paying twice because they already pay county property taxes. Lake Jovita residents in addition say they also pay for private security in their gated subdivision.

But in Sheriff Chris Nocco's view, the two municipalities must either establish their own law enforcement office, or continue to contract with the sheriff's office for services.

"It would be our expectation that you provide law enforcement should you decide not to contract with us," sheriff's attorney Jeremiah Hawkes told the commission.

Wells called on the town's attorney to investigate that interpretation. He also wondered whether the town should consider reducing the sheriff's office coverage.

"That's a lot of money," he said of the contract. "And we would be less than responsible if we didn't look at ways to lower those costs."

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