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County's budget calls for increase in taxes

All Pinellas County residents could see their property tax rates for county government rise by 1 percent, and those who live in unincorporated areas would face a10 percent increase in the additional tax they pay under a proposed budget released Tuesday.

The tax rate increases are needed to balance the 1993-94 budget, which tops out at $953-million, County Administrator Fred Marquis said.

The budget, however, does not call for water or sewer rate increases, although an estimated 30 percent increase in water rates still looms as commissioners consider whether they'll finance a new pipeline system.

While Marquis' tax predictions Tuesday probably won't make many people happy, they are lower than expected, largely because he'll be able to use about $15-million in savings from the past 12 months to offset increases in next year's budget.

Last year Marquis froze travel, hiring and some salary increases as he tried to put together the 1992-93 budget. That move worked, he said, and produced enough savings to help in the next year's budget.

"This is where that pays off," Marquis said after quietly releasing the budget at the end of the County Commission meeting.

Those savings show up in the budget's beginning balance, which is similar to the amount of money you have in your checkbook at the beginning of the month, before you start paying bills or depositing paychecks.

Going into this year, the county had a starting balance of $9.8-million. Marquis expects the 1993-94 year will begin with a balance of $29-million.

Here's how the proposed tax rate increases would affect the average $72,240 single-family home in Pinellas:

The owner of that average home, with a $25,000 homestead exemption, would pay an extra $5.13 over this year's bill, for a county tax bill of $457.86.

That same house in an unincorporated area outside of any of Pinellas' 24 cities and towns would pay an extra $105.28, a $9.60 increase, because it lies in the Metropolitan Services Taxing Unit, or MSTU in government parlance.

The MSTU tax is used to pay for services the county provides directly to non-city dwellers, mainly police protection, and is added on top of the countywide property tax.

The proposed budget adds county workers in two areas: the Parks Department, where 11 new employees are needed to open new county parks and to take over Weedon Island Preserve; and the Sheriff's Office, where 23 new employees are needed to guard prisoners and direct school traffic, among other things.

Property taxes make up only about 22 percent of the county budget but attract the greatest attention from residents. They are used largely to pay for county workers.

Other taxes, such as gasoline and sales tax surcharges, pay for county construction projects.

The county's property taxes generally account for less than one-fourth of homeowners' total tax bills. Other governments, including cities, the School Board and the Juvenile Welfare Board, also are formulating their tax rates.

A full breakdown on how much it will cost Pinellas taxpayers should begin hitting mailboxes in the first week in August.

Pinellas officials plan two public hearings on their budget and tax rate, Aug. 17 and Aug. 31.

FIGURING YOUR TAXES

Pinellas County officials are proposing a tax rate of 6.34 mills, a 1 percent increase over the current rate of 6.27 mills. A mill is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable assessed property value. To calculate how much your share of the county property tax would be, take the assessed value of your home and subtract any exemptions, such as the $25,000 homestead exemption, if you qualify. Divide that figure by 1,000 and multiply that number by 6.34. Residents in unincorporated areas would pay an additional millage of 1.42, a 10 percent increase over the current rate of 1.29 mills.

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