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Hillsborough County property tax revenue expected to fall $100 million

TAMPA — After several years of double-digit gains in property tax revenue, Hillsborough County may be experiencing a first.

A double-digit decline in property tax receipts.

Hillsborough budget officials are projecting a 13 percent slide in property tax collections next year compared to what they expect to take in this year. That translates to a $100 million hit.

That should be good news for taxpayers confronting ever-higher prices for groceries and other everyday expenses. But county officials are projecting budget season pain.

"Thanks for the uplifting report," said County Commission Chairman Ken Hagan, upon hearing the forecast from county management services administrator Eric Johnson on Wednesday.

Johnson said he's doesn't know yet where the county administration is expecting to suggest cuts. Budget season is just starting.

But lesser rollbacks in the last two years have resulted in layoffs and new fees for after-school park programs that used to be free. And commissioners have cut the tax rate for 15 consecutive years, so the current board has that political precedent weighing upon it.

Property taxes pay for much of county government's operating costs, from the salaries of deputies to the cost of mowing the grassy areas along county roads.

Johnson said it will be tough to lay off some areas of government spending that commissioners and many in the public consider sacred. That includes law enforcement and fire protection, which together eat up nearly half of the county's operating costs.

Commissioners will have to hope for cooperation from Sheriff David Gee, who prepares his own budget and enjoys some autonomy in doing so.

Sheriff's Office spokesman J.D. Callaway said his agency is mindful of the difficult climate.

"We're not unaware of what is on the horizon," Callaway said. "So we're going to be doing everything we can to pull our fair share of the weight and make things work."

Some commissioners are hinting at big-ticket changes.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham has requested an accounting of every fee the county levies. He also wants to know whether the fee charged covers the cost of the service, though he has not yet indicated what he may seek to do with information.

Meanwhile, Commissioner Mark Sharpe is calling once again for merging some of the things the county does with services offered by its three cities, such as park oversight and computer upkeep. He said Wednesday that commissioners ought to view the fiscal challenge as an opportunity rather as bad news.

"I, for one, think the reduction of government spending is a good thing," he said.

Reach Bill Varian at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Hillsborough County property tax revenue expected to fall $100 million 03/18/09 [Last modified: Wednesday, March 18, 2009 11:45pm]
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