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Saint Leo tentatively approves new budget

(ran PC edition)

The town is banking on development, including a country club community, to keep its coffers full.

Town commissioners on Monday gave unanimous preliminary approval to a $220,450 budget that borrows $27,480 from cash reserves in anticipation of a financial windfall from the new Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club development.

Although the proposed budget cuts the property tax rate from last year's 3 mills to 2.96 mills, under state law it actually is considered a huge increase from the so-called roll-back rate.

The roll-back rate is the tax rate that would generate the same revenue as last year, taking into account fluctuations in property values.

With the total value of taxable property in Saint Leo doubling this past year _ as Lake Jovita parcels were subdivided and put on the market _ the roll-back rate was set at 1.49 mills, about half last year's rate.

A mill generates $1 per $1,000 of assessed property value. The proposed rate of 2.96 mills would cost the owner of a home valued at $75,000 with a $25,000 homestead exemption $148 for the coming fiscal year.

By keeping the rate close to last year's, the town actually is assessing what the state considers a 99 percent tax increase, although homeowners won't necessarily get larger tax bills.

Because the town is so small _ about 45 homes are on the tax rolls _ the large percentage increase in revenue only translates to about $19,000. And it all is gobbled up by increased staff salary, insurance, legal and planning costs, commissioners said.

Last year's budget was $152,015.

The town will use cash from its reserve fund to keep from raising the tax rate, but commissioners expect to put the same amount back into reserves next year when construction on the Lake Jovita lots begin adding even more to the tax base.

In the past year, as Jovita lots were put on the market, the value of taxable property in town rose from $6.4-million to $12.9-million.

More than 100 of the anticipated 900 homes in the luxury Lake Jovita subdivision are inside town limits. The rest are in unincorporated Pasco.

In other business Monday, Mayor Janis Klingle suggested the town look into ways to encourage the state Department of Transportation to lower the 55 mph speed limit on State Road 52 through town. The high speed is dangerous for motorists getting on and off the highway, she said.