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HILLSBOROUGH VOTES TO CUT BACK TAX RATE

And with unexpected savings and more layoffs, the county can restore some services.

Hillsborough County property owners may see their tax bills go down this year, based on a tentative vote by commissioners Tuesday.

And commissioners managed to make it happen without some of the losses in service that were forecast, thanks to creative financing, found money and more layoffs than previously projected.

"It's been difficult, but you've got to realize that people are having a hard time keeping their homes," said Commissioner Brian Blair. "And with property tax relief sometimes comes some loss of service."

Commissioners tentatively voted to lower Hillsborough's overall tax rate by 1.49 mills, almost as much as they cut their levy in the past 14 years combined.

The cuts mean that a home in unincorporated Hillsborough with a $225,000 taxable value and a $25,000 homestead exemption would see its tax bill fall by nearly $300.

However, if a home or other property's taxable value increases, the savings could be offset. Overall, county spending will decrease 3.7 percent to $3.68-billion.

The commission made several moves Tuesday to balance its budget.

It freed up nearly $2-million for other county expenses by agreeing to eliminate 45 full-time parks jobs and replace them with part-time workers. Because of a hiring freeze since the spring, 22 of those jobs are vacant, but the decision means another 23 people will need to be laid off.

That takes the layoff total for commissioners to meet state-mandated property tax cutbacks to 160 full-time workers and hundreds more part-timers.

But there was good news. The county staff said it had miscalculated the county's annual subsidy for the Tampa Sports Authority and that the authority had cut some of its proposed spending. The changes gave the county an extra $782,000 to spend.

Commissioners used the money to restore some of the funding for several nonprofit groups that were facing cuts.

Bill Varian can be reached at (813) 226-3387 or varian@sptimes.com.

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