Thursday, April 26, 2018
Politics

Pasco residents' emails blast proposed tax hikes

NEW PORT RICHEY — Raymond Androne of Land O'Lakes said it's "unconscionable."

Dianne Roberts of Wesley Chapel called the proposed tax increase "an OUTRAGE."

And David Netz of Land O'Lakes said raising taxes would burden homeowners on fixed incomes like himself.

County officials are mulling a 5-cent gas tax increase and a 9.3 percent bump to the property tax rate in the 2013-14 budget, prompting some residents to fire off angry emails to commissioners last week.

Many lamented how higher taxes would derail the still-fragile economic recovery. Others like Brian Esselbach of Land O'Lakes struck a personal tone.

"I still have no job," Esselbach wrote. "We are still struggling to keep … all payments up on our home. Sorry to be so blunt, but this is scary."

Most stuck to a familiar theme: undisciplined government spending amid shaky economic times.

"(If) the county wants to afford to pay its bills, do what every homeowner has had to do without choice, cut spending," Roberts wrote to commissioners July 12.

Another writer, Jeannie James, said government "has an open checkbook with OUR POCKETS!"

County Administrator Michele Baker unveiled the fiscal blueprint July 9. She called the $1.16 billion plan "a flat budget" that basically maintains the current level of services. Not raising the rate would mean $17 million in cuts, she said.

Under budget rules, commissioners have until Tuesday to set the maximum tax rate and until late September to finalize the plan, which goes into effect Oct. 1.

All that is academic, however, to some residents worried about the bottom line.

If approved, the budget will force a homeowner whose property is valued at $150,000 and has a $50,000 exemption to pay an additional $64 per year in property taxes.

That's on top of a proposed $18 increase in fire and rescue services and a hike in gas taxes estimated to cost drivers $65 per year.

About 15 residents sent emails to commissioners. None of the missives was vulgar, though a few hinted at political retribution at the polls if the budget passes with the tax hikes.

Commissioners said they've taken only a handful of calls.

At a workshop last week in Dade City, Commissioner Pat Mulieri asked Baker for talking points to better explain to citizens the budget process and past spending plans, which have stayed austere for years to match falling home values.

The new plan includes a 3 percent raise for most county employees and another $1.9 million to expand the jail. Also included, a mandated $4 million contribution to the state's pension system.

Commissioners haven't said whether they'll back any or all of the proposed spending increases, though Mulieri signaled at least some support for county workers.

"Some of these people haven't had a raise in six years," she said.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey noted the county at some point must invest in infrastructure like roads and landscaping to attract jobs and continue to develop.

Some residents, she said, believe it's realistic to cut services year after year without letup. Starkey said she disagrees.

"I'm not going to have one fire truck with one firefighter," she said. "That's not my vision for Pasco."

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

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