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Property values increase slightly

Hillsborough County's property values for 1991 rose at their slowest rate in 10 years, according to preliminary figures released Monday. That's the bad news county officials were expecting, meaning their forecast for a tight budget year was accurate.

But the figures were slightly lower than anticipated, which could cause the county's number crunchers to bite down a little harder.

Hillsborough is facing a budget shortfall of up to $28-million, because of rising costs and lower-than-anticipated revenue from taxes, officials have said.

Property Appraiser Ron Alderman estimated the county's total taxable value rose to $24.3-billion this year, up $694-million from 1990. That's the lowest increase in 10 years, and a sharp drop from the heady days of growth in the mid-1980s.

A final taxable value figure is due by July 1, and Alderman stressed that it could be a little lower or even higher.

County administrators use the taxable value figure to determine how much money to expect from property taxes and to set their budgets for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

And this year more than others, county officials say they are counting every penny.

"Most of the increase is in new construction, especially in Plant City," Alderman said.

Estimates show the county's total taxable value rose 2.94 percent over last year. From the same period, the value in the city of Tampa rose 2.62 percent; in Plant City, it was 5.2 percent; and in Temple Terrace it rose 0.6 percent, records show.

Alderman's estimate, if it holds, will mean the county has to cut about $292,000 from its estimated 1991-92 budget, said Edwin J. Hunzeker, an assistant county administrator.

Although that's not small change, it is a tiny percentage of the county's total $1.3-billion budget.

County Administrator Fred Karl said this has been a tough budget year, because increases in some items, such as insurance, are unavoidable.

He has asked county departments to prepare budgets that use the same amount of money as last year. He recommended that constitutional offices, such as the property appraiser and sheriff's office, seek increases of 5 percent over last year.

If all departments come in at those figures, Karl said he doesn't expect the county's portion of the tax rate to increase. A person's tax bill includes other taxes, for such items as schools, and those tax rates could increase.

For example, the sheriff is seeking a 10 percent increase over last year, which sheriff's officials say is needed to maintain the existing level of service.