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Tax appraisal finds values up

A boom in construction and a battle over prime retail sites drive up the value of parcels, bringing in cash to the county.

Preliminary tax assessments from the county property appraisers show an 8.78 percent expansion in Pasco's property tax base from last year's assessment.

That's good news for taxpayers, the county and the school system, because it means the government will bring in more cash to meet people's needs without raising the millage rates.

Property Appraiser Mike Wells estimates the county will be able to collect property taxes on $9.1-billion worth of property for 2000. That's about $735-million more value than was assessed the year before.

What's swelling the tax rolls?

The source, according to Wells, can be found on almost any commercial corner: the escalating battle between Walgreens and Eckerd to build drugstores. Walgreens recently set a county record by paying $2.3-million for a piece of land at the corner of State Road 54 and Rowan Road. And Wells said parcels where drugstores and convenience stores will be built have been selling routinely for upward of $1-million.

"You had two large drug chains that were competing with each other, many times for the same corners. If you look, you'll see these are the choicest corners around," he said. "And retailers decide they have to be there at any cost."

The boom in construction and building improvements also helped boost the assessments. The property appraiser estimates that new construction totaled about $382-million during the 1999 calendar year, a figure that includes new growth and enhancements of completed houses and commercial buildings.

The construction figure is up 26 percent from the previous year's assessment of $303-million and significantly larger than that of two years ago, when construction only contributed $237-million. But Wells said the Federal Reserve Board's recent one-half point increase in the prime lending rate could shrink the number of borrowers able to finance new homes and improvements to existing ones.

"It's going to slow down the marginal buyer," Wells said. "In Pasco, a good portion of our buyers were cash buyers, but that's changing. More young people need mortgages, and they're going to be more dependent on interest rates."

This year's assessment marks the second year of overall growth of about 8 percent; last year's property tax base grew 7.8 percent. But Wells said it is unrealistic to think the growth will continue at such a brisk rate.

With the exception of tiny San Antonio, whose assessment value more than doubled, Pasco's cities enjoyed much more modest growth (see chart). Wells said the increase in San Antonio is largely due to the Lake Jovita Golf and Country club, a 900-unit luxury development with about 135 homes planned within the town limits. The development is under construction.

New Port Richey, the county's largest incorporated area, by contrast, saw about a 1 percent decrease in taxable value. New Port Richey finance director Rick Snyder said that, although he hadn't reviewed the county's numbers, he had feared the tax base would shrink when North Bay Hospital became a non-profit facility and thus dropped from the tax rolls.

"They were one of our top 10 taxpayers last year," Snyder said. "When they fell off the books, I was hoping it would be offset by other wonderful increases throughout the city, but apparently that didn't happen."

Taxable value assessments, Pasco County

1999: $9,104,108,845

1998: $8,368,669,272

1997: $7,964,076,699

1996: $7,606,876,334

1995: $7,330,493,199

1999 values are estimates

1999 municipal assessment change (estimated)

8.78% increase, Pasco County

110% increase, Saint Leo

12.35% increase, San Antonio

4.85% increase, Zephyrhills

4.23% increase, Dade City

2.62% increase, Port Richey

1.07% decrease, New Port Richey