Hillsborough County’s budget plan rosier than expected

Property value growth fuels proposed $7.14 billion spending, steady tax rates
Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise shown during the July 14 commission meeting on HGTV.
Hillsborough County Administrator Bonnie Wise shown during the July 14 commission meeting on HGTV. [ Tampa Bay Times ]
Published July 14, 2021|Updated July 14, 2021

TAMPA — Two months ago, Hillsborough County budget administrators delivered bleak news to commissioners — expect tax roll growth to slow significantly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The message, it turned out, was off base.

“Revenues have generally recovered more quickly than anticipated and ad valorem taxable values have continued to grow at a rate above average historical levels, especially because of the robust housing market,” County Administrator Bonnie Wise told commissioners Wednesday. ”Tourism is thriving, businesses are growing and we are now on the road to recovery,”

Wise’s comments came as she recommended a $7.141 billion county budget for the coming fiscal year, that includes status quo property tax rates and more than $17 million that is unallocated and available for commissioners’ discretionary spending decisions.

In unincorporated Hillsborough, taxable values of real estate grew to $67.8 billion. Combined with values of personal and railroad properties, the tax rolls jumped nearly 9 percent to $73.8 billion, according to the Hillsborough Property Appraiser’s Office.

Countrywide, the taxable value of real estate, after exemptions, grew nearly $10 billion to more than $112.7 billion. Combined with other properties, the tax rolls increased 8.91 percent to $122.4 billion.

The percentage increases are significantly higher than the state-provided projections county staff presented to commissioners in May. At the time, even with rising residential real estate prices, the state predicted less robust appraisals for commercial properties because of pandemic-induced business losses, The state estimated an increase in the property tax rolls of less than 3.5 percent.

Related: Hillsborough budget preview: No new deputies or fire stations

“Clearly, the state numbers were under-projected,” Hillsborough Property Appraiser Bob Henriquez told the Tampa Bay Times.

Part of the Hillsborough increase came because some portions of the Water Street development in Tampa came online in 2020, Henriquez said. The JW Marriott Water Street hotel, for instance, added $101 million in taxable value to the property rolls.

Residential real estate prices also were a big driver of the growing tax base. Countywide, more than 367,000 single-family homes account for nearly $60 billion, or more than half of the tax roll values.

“There’s some areas that have been very robust. The housing market is on fire,” Henriquez said.

That translates to added revenue for government operations. The proposed spending plan is $44 million higher than the current budget that runs through Sept. 30. Some of the proposed new spending would cover: Mosquito control equipment; technology and security upgrades for county facilities; rebuilding a fire station in Thonotosassa; providing a new ambulance unit; improving the All People’s Life Center; renovating parks and a one-time, $5 million appropriation for road resurfacing and sidewalk repairs.

Commissioners will discuss their own additional priorities, known as flags, during a July 29 meeting. Commissioner Kimberly Overman hinted that she wanted an added focus on affordable housing, Representatives of Hillsborough Organization for Progress and Equality, HOPE, a community organization of 25 congregations, made their own pitch. They asked for a $500,000 annual investment in mental health services.

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The county budget includes two separate general funds and tax rates.

All property is assessed at a rate of just less than $5.74 per $1,000 of property value for jail operations, constitutional offices, human services, economic development and other programs.. Businesses and residents in the unincorporated areas of the county, about two-thirds of the county population, also pay a rate of just less than $4.38 per $1,000 for services such as fire, law enforcement, parks and recreation, code enforcement and other departments. Property within the three cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace pay separate taxes to their municipal governments.

The countywide tax rate means a tax bill of $1,146 for a home with an assessed value of $250,000. The owner of a home with the same value in the unincorporated county also would pay $875 under that tax rate.