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Officials vote to keep Pinellas property tax rate unchanged

Pinellas County's property tax rate will remain the same next year under the budget approved Tuesday night by the County Commission.

The vote was unanimous.

With county property values up nearly 11 percent from last year, commissioners were able to avoid increasing the countywide tax rate or the additional rate charged to property owners in unincorporated areas.

The budget of $1.557-billion is $13-million less than the current spending plan. It proposes less spending on capital projects and slightly more on operations.

The 2004-05 budget takes effect Oct. 1.

Under the plan, property owners pay the same countywide property tax rate of about $6.80 per $1,000 of taxable property value. Unincorporated property owners, who pay an additional tax, will not see a rise in that rate of about $2.36 per $1,000 of taxable value.

That means a person owning a $125,000 home in unincorporated Pinellas County, after subtracting a $25,000 homestead exemption, still would pay about $916 in county property taxes.

Cities and the school district also collect property taxes.

Commissioner Ken Welch called the county budget "very responsible."

"Not only are we keeping the millage rate the same, but (the budget) is $13-million less in real dollars," Welch said.

The county budget includes a $21.1-million increase in the sheriff's operating budget, a 10 percent boost primarily to cover pay raises and benefits.

Other new spending includes money for three code enforcement officers, six more 911 operators, six new animal services employees, $600,000 for an indigent health care program in St. Petersburg and $200,000 more for a social action grant program.

The county had to account for $5.5-million in pretrial juvenile detention costs, Pinellas' share of the $90-million passed along to county governments this year by the Florida Legislature.

The state, meanwhile, absorbs a larger portion of Pinellas County's court costs under a constitutional amendment approved by voters. It also absorbs many of the fees collected to pay those costs.

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