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Tampa port votes to lower property tax rate, but floats future increase

Commissioners may consider hiking Hillsborough millage rates in order to buy new waterfront property.
Port Tampa Bay, shown here from an area near its cruise terminal and Sparkman Wharf on Oct. 19, 2020, may consider increasing its property tax rate in order to fund the purchase of more waterfront property, commissioner Patrick Allman said during a meeting Tuesday in Tampa.
Port Tampa Bay, shown here from an area near its cruise terminal and Sparkman Wharf on Oct. 19, 2020, may consider increasing its property tax rate in order to fund the purchase of more waterfront property, commissioner Patrick Allman said during a meeting Tuesday in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]
Published Jun. 21

For 28 years, Port Tampa Bay has either dropped or held steady the millage tax rates it levies on Hillsborough County property owners in order to fund capital improvements.

An end to that streak may be on the horizon.

Port commissioners on Tuesday voted to decrease this year’s port millage rate to no more than $0.0844 per $1,000 in property valuation, down from $0.0935 this year. Because property values have risen so much, that would pull in nearly $10.9 million for the port, slightly more than it’ll collect during the current fiscal year.

But commissioner Patrick Allman, the board’s secretary and treasurer, suggested the port look at increasing its property tax rate in order to fund future purchases of waterfront property.

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“Maybe not this year, but next year, we may need to bump (the rate) up just a bit to be able to fund these land acquisitions, because I see no other way to do it looking ahead,” Allman said. “The only way I see to do it is property taxes.”

The port uses tax receipts for projects like dredging, drainage, rail repair, berth and facility maintenance and more. Land acquisition would be a viable use, said port attorney Charles Klug.

“We don’t use them for administrative expenses, we don’t use them for paying salaries, marketing,” Klug said. “All the money that we use is typically (for) capital projects that benefit the public in general, not one particular user.”

Related: Property taxes rise in Tampa Bay market, adding to growing homeownership costs

Much of the ad valorem tax money the port has taken in this past year is “being eaten up by inflation on our capital projects,” Allman said. “We’re going to have the opportunity to buy waterfront land that we use as working waterfront land when we run out of land. Where are we going to get money to do that? We can’t get grants to buy land.”

Allman did not outline specific land purchases the port might be eyeing, or how much it might look to spend. The board approved the recommended lower millage rate without planning more detailed discussions on a future increase.

This year’s millage rate will not be finalized until the port and county set their budgets in August and September.

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