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Editorial: User fees could help keep county budget afloat

Pasco commissioners think a property tax increase for some of their constituents and a slew of new fees for recreation enthusiasts are preferable to draining more swimming pools, closing parks or altering law enforcement spending for the coming year.

It is a reasonable calculation that still requires fine-tuning as the commission prepares its budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.

Commissioners tentatively agreed this week to raise the property tax rates supporting the general fund and county fire department. The increases, if adopted in September, account for less than 45 cents per $1,000 of assessed value or a bump of just under 6 percent to $8.01 per $1,000 for the combined millage.

The prolonged decline in assessed values, however, means only about a third of the owner-occupied residences in the county will see an actual increase in their tax bills. The rest, no longer benefiting from the additional Save Our Homes exemption, should see a drop in their tax bill because the millage increase is more than offset by an average 11 percent drop in assessed value.

The proposed general fund tax rate of just less than $6.59 per $1,000 staves off $4 million in additional spending cuts, but requires Sheriff Bob White to make do with a status quo budget despite projected increases in retirement and health insurance costs. The sheriff's far-fetched idea of selling the jail to supplement personnel expenses and hire new deputies did not merit a public discussion among commissioners.

The proposed budget — still a work in progress to be delivered to commissioners in mid July — also is counting on $762,000 generated from new park user fees. The fees shouldn't be discouraged, but it strikes us as an optimistic estimate considering the county has never done this on such a wide scale.

Asking the public to pay a new fee for sports leagues, for beach parking or to launch a boat is logical. But expecting patrons to pay to enter Crews Lake, Moon Lake or Starkey parks — where Mother Nature and picnicking are the top draws — or requesting bicyclists to pay for access to the Suncoast Trail might not be as successful. Still, user fees beat the alternative of closing swimming pools and possibly selling smaller parks to offset an expected $800,000 cut in parks and recreation spending.

Public responses to county surveys and at town hall meetings have indicated support for charging people for the services they use. The level of that acceptance now will be measured by county's bottom line.

Editorial: User fees could help keep county budget afloat 06/16/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 5:10pm]
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