Neil Brickfield and Janet Long are locked in a tight race for the Pinellas County Commission District 1 seat. Until now, the focus has been on Long criticizing Brickfield's vote to take fluoride out of county drinking water.
Now, a campaign flier from Brickfield tries to tap into the antitax sentiment among voters by implying that Long is a tax-and-spend Democrat.
"As a city council member, Janet Long increased spending by over 48 percent and property taxes by 60 percent!" the flier claims.
Brickfield, a Republican incumbent, has the numbers about right on increases in property tax revenue and spending in Seminole during the four years Long served on the council. Brickfield's flier implies that Long acted alone. In reality, she was one vote on a seven-member council. The claim also fails to provide any context for increases in the city budget.
When Long was elected to the Seminole council in March 2002, the budget was about $11.42 million. By the time she left in March 2006, it had grown by about 58 percent to $18.05 million.
During the same time period, property tax revenues in Seminole climbed about 55 percent from about $2.02 million to about $3.13 million, according to city records.
But the city's tax rate remained the same, about $2.94 per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value.
Seminole managed that trick by a combination of increasing property values and large annexations of upscale neighborhoods in the area around Walsingham Lake, said Harry Kyne, the city's budget director. More property meant more income, he said. But more people meant the city had to spend more to take care of those new citizens.
Two annexations took place while Long was in office. Both were in January 2003. When they were complete, Seminole had grown by 431 acres, 475 homes, 109 condos, 612 chunks of land and more than 1,300 residents, said Mark Ely, the city's development director.
Ely said the city has no records of the total taxable value of the annexed properties but they were of "higher than average taxable value. Larger lots. Bigger homes."
By the city of Seminole's calculations, the budget actually increased more than the 48 percent that Brickfield cites. And tax revenue climbed 55 percent, not quite the 60 percent on Brickfield's flier, but not too far off. So overall, the numbers are largely on target.
But the flier lacks context in that the City Council never raised the tax rate while Long was in office. The budget and revenue increases were due to the city growing and property values increasing.
We rule this Half True.
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