Faced with a larger than expected drop in property values, Pasco commissioners correctly withstood the election-year temptation to promote across-the-board tax relief.
Last week, commissioners unanimously affirmed their prior support for the so-called rollback tax rate in preparing the next fiscal year budget. It's smart thinking because the overall rate can still be lowered as the spending plan comes into focus.
By choosing the combined rollback rate of $8.42 of tax per $1,000 of assessed value to finance the general fund and the fire district, the commission plans to raise the same level of revenue as the current budget. The proposed tax rate is 5.9 percent higher to offset the same-sized drop in the tax rolls.
It is the second time since 2009 the commission has chosen to use the rollback rate to try to mitigate service cuts amid plunging property values. With good reason. Since 2008, the real estate tax roll has lost a third of its value, bringing a $32 million drop in general fund property taxes used to pay for law enforcement, parks, libraries, animal control and other services.
To compensate, commissioners reduced operating hours at recreation centers and libraries, charged fees at parks and raised the price of ambulance rides, closed two swimming pools and turned to a private club to keep two others open, halved the local contribution to elderly nutrition, froze salaries for five years and laid off employees.
It would be easy, particularly in an election year, to champion a tax cut under the guise of maintaining a status quo tax rate while property values fall. It's that kind of political logic that dominates just to the north, in Hernando County, but the unpleasant result there is a budget manager predicting a need to eliminate half of county government services.
Allowing residents to visit a library, enjoy a park, lunch at a senior center, call the county to round up a stray dog or receive a timely response to a plea for public safety assistance requires a commission commitment to continue investing in Pasco's quality of life attributes. There is much more work ahead in the budget season, but for now, asking people, on average, to pay the same amount of property taxes next year as they did this year is not an unreasonable request.