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New Port Richey's tax rate could rise

Residents will likely pay more money this year for city services.

Whether it will be through higher taxes or in the form of proposed fire and street light fees has yet to be decided.

It is that uncertainty that led City Council members to agree to raise the tax rate to 9 mills during a work session Tuesday night.

The jump from the current 6.25 mills to 9 would generate $1.2-million needed to balance next year's general fund budget. The $1.2-million could also be raised via proposed fire and street light fees that would affect nonprofits in addition to homeowners, businesses and other property owners.

Either way, there will some unhappy residents.

"We're being taxed out of existence," homeowner Jim Demetriades said. "If this tax rate continues to escalate I'm going to be forced to sell."

Council members said the increased millage is a precautionary measure and is not set in stone. Rather, they say, it is an insurance policy should controversial fire and street light fees fail when they come up for a July 29 vote.

The decision paves the way for a public meeting July 15, when council members must lock in the rate that will appear on the annual Truth In Millage or TRIM notice mailed out to residents.

If that rate is approved next week, the notices will read that New Port Richey's millage is increasing to 9. City Manager Gerald Seeber said the TRIM also will include notice of a fire service fee and a street light fee.

The general fund, which would benefit from the increased millage rate or service fees, pays for operating expenses such as police, fire, the library, parks and recreation.

Council members said they might enact either fees or a tax hike, but not both. Still, they said, the law requires the public knows about each potential increase.

"My only concern is how many heart attacks we're going to have when those envelopes are opening," said Council member Tom Finn, who preliminarily approved 9 mills during a unanimous vote.

Seeber said that the staff will mail out letters explaining to residents that the fees are only proposed.

He added that once the millage rate is locked in July 15, the council still has the option of lowering it. Or it could raise the property tax rate just slightly and employ some combination of fire or street light fees to make up the needed $1.2-million.

The goal is to give council members options, Mayor Frank Parker said.

"We have always set the ceiling high," Parker said of millage rates. "In some cases (we do so) to generate public input."

The final tax rate will be set in September.

_ Melia Bowie covers the city of New Port Richey. She can be reached in west Pasco at 869-6229, or toll-free at 1-800-333-7505, ext. 6229. Her e-mail address is bowiesptimes.com.

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