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Hillsborough OKs $8.5 billion budget

Commissioners approved the budget quickly and quietly.
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue station 45 under construction at 307 Pauls Drive pictured  on Friday, July 1, 2022 in Brandon. The new county budget calls for construction of a new fire station in Sun City Center, plus rebuilding three existing stations. However, the capital spending still leaves the county short 23 fire stations, said budget director Kevin Brickey.
Hillsborough County Fire Rescue station 45 under construction at 307 Pauls Drive pictured on Friday, July 1, 2022 in Brandon. The new county budget calls for construction of a new fire station in Sun City Center, plus rebuilding three existing stations. However, the capital spending still leaves the county short 23 fire stations, said budget director Kevin Brickey. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published Sep. 23|Updated Sep. 23

TAMPA — It was a series of numbers for Hillsborough County commissioners Thursday night: 27 minutes, three unanimous votes, zero discussion.

It resulted in approval of a nearly $8.5 billion county budget for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, plus an accompanying $3.1 billion, five-year capital spending plan. Commissioners concluded the two public hearings in less than 30 minutes.

The approved $8.496 billion budget is $1 billion, or 13.5%, more than the current spending plan. Much of the increase, nearly $800 million, is attributed to capital spending financed by recent borrowing, such as $492 million for water and sewer, $63 million for solid waste and $32 million for environmental lands. The capital budget also includes $134 million from the federal American Rescue Plan.

But higher tax revenue from rising property values also fueled the budget growth, something that wasn’t lost on some of the public commentators. The final budget hearing drew just three speakers, two of whom asked the commission to pare the tax rate to provide relief to property owners.

“There’s a windfall in the county that has been irresponsibly managed somehow,” Serena Serreno said about new revenue from rising property values. “Shame on you for not making more of an effort to make cuts in discretionary spending.”

Another speaker, however, complimented the commission for investing in sidewalks including a previously approved $20 million appropriation from the American Rescue Plan.

“You can’t put a price tag on it, but the investment in those sidewalks will pay off in the next five to 10 years,” said Gary Cloyd.

Commissioners did not comment before voting 6-0 to approve the tax rates and budget. Commissioner Stacy White was absent.

Under the budget, property taxes help finance two separate general funds, and the assessed tax rates have remained steady for more than a dozen years.

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. That general fund totals $1.293 billion.

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. That budget fund totals $692 million.

Property within the cities of Tampa, Plant City and Temple Terrace pay separate taxes to their municipal governments.

The commission also approved the five-year capital spending plan that included 293 separate projects involving fire services, libraries, parks, jail, solid waste, water and sewer, roads and drainage. The spending ranged from $100,000 for public art to $24 million for a new warehouse for the fire/rescue and emergency management departments and $275 million for the planned water campus in south county.

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Despite the spending, budget director Kevin Brickey noted the county still faces a shortage of 23 fire stations, a need for affordable housing, a transportation backlog and unfunded maintenance, renovations and planned expansions of parks.

“There’s still needs,” he said.

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