Local officials hoping for relief from their gathering budget problems can count on getting little help from Pasco County's listless economy this year. Countywide, taxable property values are expected to grow a mere 4.1 percent over last year according to early estimates prepared by Property Appraiser Ted Williams.
By comparison, property values grew 5.1 percent last year and 9.1 percent the year before. Williams said Monday that it has been a "long, long time" since property values saw so little growth.
If Williams' expectations do not change, the budget problems of city, county, School Board and other local officials will be that much more acute. In good years, rising property values enable officials to raise more money from property owners without raising taxes.
This year, however, is far from being a good year.
"We're in a recession _ a serious one _ and if anyone's ever going to tighten their budget, this ought to be the year to do it," Williams said.
County officials said they already have been looking at ways to hold down property taxes.
"I think you will find that our approach has been No. 1, no new programs," said Michael Nurrenbrock, director of the County Commission's Office of Management and Budget. "No. 2, for almost every department (there will be) no new positions, and you'll also find that a number of our departments are reducing positions."
Four of Pasco's five constitutional officers turned in their budget requests on Friday. Tax Collector Mike Olson is not required to submit his budget until Aug. 1.
Williams is seeking the smallest increase. His proposed 4.6 percent increase would add $113,540 to his current budget, giving him a 1991-92 budget of about $2.5-million.
Clerk of Circuit Court Jed Pittman has requested an 8.2 percent increase, which would bring the total he receives from the County Commission to slightly more than $4.2-million.
Pittman said in his budget request that his $322,859 requested increase was due to "tremendous growth in traffic-related cases" and the addition of data processing duties.
Sheriff Jim Gillum is seeking the most money from the county. Gillum has requested approximately $5-million more than he received this year. That would translate into a 17 percent increase and a $34-million budget for 1991-92.
Supervisor of Elections Kurt Browning is seeking the largest increase at 25.1 percent of his budget. With the requested $264,289 increase, Browning's budget would rise to $1.3-million.
With one more election than usual and the demands of legislative reapportionment to contend with, Browning said he has run out of ways to keep costs down.
"I am not pleased with the increase that is being requested," he wrote in a letter to the County Commission. "However, this budget provides funding for the 1992 presidential preference primary, first primary, second primary and general election."
Browning plans to eliminate one of his 19 authorized positions and not seek funds for another position that he wants to keep open. New federal guidelines force him to increase the taxes paid on poll workers' wages and to meet the increase in the minimum wage. Without those factors, he said his budget proposal would be more in line with past requests, which have sought an average increase of 4.8 percent during the last three years.
Property taxes are not the only source of local revenue that is expected to see little or no growth next year.
The recession also has affected how much the county gets from the state. As consumers buy less and pay fewer sales taxes, the state returns less money to local officials.
This year, money from the state was expected to account for $26.5-million of the county's $394.4-million budget.
Next year, Nurrenbrock said, it will be a "real possibility" that the county will be able to count on even less money from Tallahassee when it puts together its 1991-92 budget.
"I would say that they (revenues from the state) are down, and it's going to hurt us when we put the budget together," Nurrenbrock said. "How deep the cuts are going to be, I couldn't tell you."
Williams delivered his estimates of growth in property values to local officials so they could use the approximations in putting together their 1991-92 budgets.
As slowly as property values are growing, it was still "a little more than I thought it was going to be," Williams said. "It's still going down, but the bottom hasn't just totally fallen out."
While the overall local economy remains sluggish, Williams said the county does have a few warm spots. For example, he said the State Road 54 corridor and the area east of U.S. 19 and Hudson Avenue should help buoy property values.
Among municipalities, Zephyrhills got the best news last week. Property values in that city are expected to grow 9.2 percent. The most dismal outlook belongs to Dade City, where property values are not expected to rise by even a tenth of a percent.
In West Pasco, property values in New Port Richey and Port Richey are expected to grow by 2.9 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
New Port Richey City Manager Gerald Seeber said such modest growth in the city's tax base will make balancing the budget harder for the city officials, but "that wasn't something that was entirely unexpected."
Seeber was disappointed that the value of property inside New Port Richey's community redevelopment area is expected to go down for the second straight year.
Any increase in taxable value would have generated more money for redevelopment projects. With a decrease, the city still will receive some money for improvements within the district, but Seeber said the revenues probably will not be significant.
The taxing outlook
Below are the estimated 1991 taxable property values for Pasco County, its six municipalities and the areas covered by the West Pasco Mosquito Control District. Property Appraiser Ted Williams provided the estimates to local officials late last week to help them plan their budgets for the 1991-92 fiscal year.
Municipality 1990 value 1991 Percent
+Pasco County $6,615,710,610 $6,888,940,276 4.1 %
New Port Richey $417,353,820 $429,462,773 2.9 %
Port Richey $114,590,679 $116,833,159 2.0 %
Zephyrhills $202,097,052 $220,618,488 9.2 %
Dade City $125,962,086 $127,104,361 0.1 %
San Antonio $12,435,667 $12,829,891 3.2 %
Saint Leo $6,414,208 $6,601,511 2.9 %
Mosquito Control $5,333,958,649 $5,552,576,543 4.1 %
+ This taxable value will be used by the County Commission, School Board and Southwest Florida Water Management District (Swiftmud).
SOURCE: Pasco County Property Appraiser's Office.