CLEARWATER –– It's easy to pass a $2.2 billion budget when rising property values bring in extra cash.
The Pinellas County Commission unanimously approved the 2017-18 budget this week with little discussion. The millage rate stayed the same, so commissioners said they were also to continue providing residents with "high-quality services" without increasing taxes.
Increased property values raised an additional $66 million over the prior year. No residents offered their support or criticism of the budget that was approved.
For the third consecutive year, Pinellas County has a balanced budget that includes 3 percent raises for full-time employees. The county employs about 2,100 people, similar to 1989 staffing levels.
Of the $2.2 billion, the five constitutional offices — the sheriff, the clerk of the circuit court, property appraiser, supervisor of elections and tax collector –– account for nearly 17 percent, or $365 million of the total budget. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office will get $289 million of that. Those five offices, which are separate from county government, have a total of 2,910 employees.
The property tax rate, which is paid by property owners countywide, will remain at $5.30 per $1,000 in assessed taxable property value. That equates to $527.55 for an average homeowner whose property is valued at $100,000 with exemptions included.
The unincorporated area property tax rate, paid by owners whose property is not in one of the county's 24 cities, will remain at $2.09 per $1,000, adding $208.75 to the bill. That rate has not changed since 2008.
But, with property values still climbing from an improved economy, most residents will end up paying more in taxes. But even as revenues rise, the commissioners and county administrator said they're not going on a spending spree.
Instead, they are cautiously awaiting the result of a constitutional amendment the Legislature put on the 2018 ballot. If that measure passes, it would add a $25,000 homestead exemption on properties valued at more than $100,000. Florida's homestead exemption would then become $75,000, costing counties millions in property tax revenue.
If it passes, Pinellas County estimates it would lose $17 million in property taxes in 2020.
Contact Mark Puente at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 892-2996. Follow @MarkPuente