Monday, April 23, 2018
Opinion

Glum budget numbers can't fill shopping list

If this had been a movie, you could call it Glum and Glummer.

Pasco's property tax rolls are up one-quarter of 1 percent compared to a year ago. The $19.3 billion tax roll, upon which Pasco County's government, fire department and school district build the revenue side of their budgets, at least stopped a five-year free fall that removed nearly $10.5 billion from the tax roll since 2008. This year's upward nudge, however, is attributable to new construction. The values of existing commercial, industrial and residential properties in Pasco County still fell 1.59 percent in 2012.

Those recent accounts of home sale prices climbing? They won't show up until the 2015 tax roll.

In theory, the current number means a typical property owner would see a slightly smaller county tax bill even with a status quo tax rate for 2014. But you don't need the intellect of Sheldon Cooper to disprove this theory. It's kaput already.

Here's why: While being briefed last week on early budget numbers for the coming fiscal year, Pasco commissioners learned their own fire department had been running a deficit for the past seven years. Its budget had been balanced annually by tapping reserve accounts that now will be exhausted by Sept. 30, 2014, unless something changes.

And, something will change. Without a tax rate increase for the fire district, the commission will have to cut $825,000 from its next budget, forfeit a federal grant that paid for 18 firefighters and pink slip 12 more for a total of 30 layoffs. The county called that the zero option.

More likely, the commission will consider a nearly 8 percent increase in the fire tax, taking it from 1.54 mills to 1.66, to at least end the raid on the reserve accounts and maintain current staffing.

Giving salary increase to firefighters, rebuilding the reserve account and setting aside money for future capital expenses would push the tax rate even higher – an unlikely scenario considering the budget uncertainties elsewhere.

The general fund shopping list is long and starts with nearly $11 million in higher personnel costs without even hiring a new employee. The county will need $4 million to cover new state-mandated retirement contributions and $5.3 million to finance 3 percent salary increases for county staffers, deputies, and employees of the constitutional officers. There also is a plan to spend $1.6 million to start a wellness program that will include health care clinics for county employees to stave off long-term health insurance costs.

The proposed budget also will include a nickel-per-gallon gasoline tax increase for road maintenance and other transportation-related costs to which commissioners have yet to commit.

Sheriff Chris Nocco wants $2.7 million to hire staff to open the third floor of the jail and to replace the aging fleet vehicles used by detectives. The car cost, roughly $900,000, is an appropriate use of Penny for Pasco sales tax money and shouldn't be included automatically in the county's general fund. The sheriff, however, also is confronting the state's forced retirement benefit increase that will cost his department almost $1.67 million.

If you're keeping score, that's $15.2 million in new money requested for the general fund budget with more to follow as the county plans to roll out another $4.4 million in new initiatives later this month.

There is one more caveat. For decades, the commission relied on money from Tax Collector Mike Olson to help balance the county budget. Under state law, a portion of the services fees collected by Olson's office for such things as real estate transactions and hunting, fishing and drivers' licenses are returned to the commission at the end of the fiscal year. Olson sent $3.3 million to commission last fall. This year, however, he is expected to hold on to much of the money to finance new offices for his agency in south-central Pasco. The service center would replace Olson's current space in a county-owned building on U.S. 41 in Land O'Lakes and an office in Zephyrhills that closed two years ago.

After the workshop, Olson projected that he might return roughly $1 million to the commission this year while still squirreling away money for new offices.

Earlier, Commissioner Kathryn Starkey suggested Olson delay his capital spending in order to help finance raises for employees. Chairman Ted Schrader characterized the excessive fees as "a profit that needs to be returned to the County Commission.''

Or, you could say a past commission bought a privately owned office building 20 years ago that is now obsolete for a tax collector who must administer road tests amid a cramped public parking lot.

It's also tough for a commission to deny the capital needs of a constitutional officer considering the county is currently building a new $12.2 million new information technology center in Dade City and listening to proposals for a jail annex and a new criminal courthouse in Land O'Lakes.

When it's a glum budget, austerity should be across the board.

Comments
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Updated: 5 hours ago
Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Editorial: Allegiant Air still has safety issues

Allegiant Air’s safety record remains troubling, and the Federal Aviation Administration’s reluctance to talk about it is no more encouraging. Those are the key takeaways from a 60 Minutes report on the low-cost carrier’s high rate of mid-flight brea...
Published: 04/21/18

Editorial: Women’s work undervalued in bay area

Even a strong economy and low unemployment cannot overcome the persistent pay gap affecting full-time working women in Florida. A new report shows women in Florida earned 12.5 percent less on average than their male counterparts, and the disparities ...
Published: 04/21/18
Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

Editorial: New Cuba president is chance for new start

For all the symbolism, Raul Castro’s handoff of the Cuban presidency this week amounts to less than meets the eye even if his handpicked successor, the Communist Party functionary Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, is the first person not named Castro to le...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: A missed chance for open primary elections

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission did a lot of things wrong this week by combining unrelated or unpalatable provisions into single amendments that will appear on the November ballot. It also wasted an opportunity to do one thing right. The...
Published: 04/20/18
Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

Editorial: When they visit Nature’s Classroom, kids are right where they belong

The Hillsborough school district planted a fruitful seed with the opening of Nature’s Classroom five decades ago on the cypress-lined banks of the Hillsborough River northeast of Tampa. • The lessons taught there to some 17,000 sixth graders each yea...
Published: 04/20/18

Editorial: Equality pays off on Southwest Flight 1380

The passengers of Southwest Flight 1380 can be thankful that, 33 years ago, the U.S. Navy took the lead on equal opportunity.Capt. Tammie Jo Shults was piloting the flight from New York to Dallas on Tuesday when an engine exploded, blowing out a wind...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Editorial: Why single-member districts would be bad for Hillsborough commission

Anyone looking to make Hillsborough County government bigger, costlier, more dysfunctional and less of a regional force should love the idea that Commissioner Sandy Murman rolled out this week. She proposes enlarging the seven-member board to nine, e...
Published: 04/19/18
Updated: 04/20/18
Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

Editorial: Improving foster care in Hillsborough

A new foster care provider in Hillsborough County is poised to take over operations in May, only months after its predecessor was fired for what was alleged to be a pattern of failing to supervise at-risk children in its care. Many of the case manage...
Published: 04/18/18

Another voice: Back to postal reform

President Donald Trump is angry at Amazon for, in his tweeted words, "costing the United States Post Office massive amounts of money for being their Delivery Boy." Yet in more recent days, Trump has at least channeled his feelings in what could prove...
Published: 04/17/18
Updated: 04/18/18