Some Pasco County homeowners will pay 29 percent less in property taxes in the coming year than they did in 2003. Go back even further, and some residents, who have owned their homes since 1995, will pay $50 less in 2012 than they did 16 years ago because of changed millage rates, falling property values and voter-approved tax exemptions.
It is sad proof that you get what you pay for.
The 1995 tax bill included an extra tax to pay off bonds used to build parks and libraries. The 2012 tax bill, as proposed, includes a general fund millage that will not cover the operating costs of the swimming pools built with those long-retired bonds. It is a paradox that commissioners must address more forcefully than simply hoping the private sector bails them out.
Tuesday morning, County Administrator John Gallagher unveiled the proposed budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1 with status quo tax rates of $6.37 per $1,000 of property value for the county's general operations and $1.43 per $1,000 for its fire department. But a continued decline in the tax rolls means there will be $3.3 million less to spend in the county's general and fire district funds. The result: a plan to lay off 14 employees and close swimming pools in Hudson and Land O'Lakes, as previously proposed.
Reduced pension costs softened much of the fiscal pain for 2012, and the availability of federal and state money will allow the county to expand its bus service to add a cross-county route to connect existing runs in east and west Pasco. The improved bus service was one of the few bright spots in a budget that is far from robust, but at least tempers the bleak outlook of the past three years when the county has raised tax rates, laid off employees, charged new or higher fees and cut operations at libraries, parks, social services and other agencies.
Yet, the budget still includes shuttering county swimming pools at the Land O'Lakes Recreation Complex and the Veterans Park in Hudson to save $289,000 in operating subsidies. Both pools opened in the early 1990s after being financed with voter-approved bond issues. County staffers said they believe private parties may step forward to keep the pool open in Land O'Lakes, though a similar private arrangement collapsed in Zephyrhills during the current budget year.
Over the next 10 weeks, commissioners must decide on financing for, among other things, law enforcement, economic development, parks and recreation, and the county's internal infrastructure of computer software and communications upgrades to bolster long-term efficiency. They must soon set a property tax rate that can be lowered before Sept. 30, but cannot be raised. They also will consider how to allocate nearly $3.6 million in so-called excessive fees projected to be returned by the constitutional officers.
In their deliberations, the commission also must recall the tax bills of 1995. Paying to build swimming pools then but failing to pay to operate them now is ludicrous.