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Pasco officials brace for major budget hit due to the coronavirus

Commissioners discuss proposed 2 percent employee raises

NEW PORT RICHEY — Summer is prime time for government officials to prepare spending plans for the new fiscal year that begins Oct. 1. But the summer of 2020 holds no comfort and no clarity for Pasco County officials currently trying to predict just how low revenues might go, given the current situation with COVID-19.

County commissioners got a brief update on Tuesday showing them falling revenues in numerous categories ranging from sales tax to gas tax to tourist tax, which was taking a huge hit as people have stayed home, avoided travel and spending and seen many tourism options cut back or close entirely.

The commission is scheduled to set their tentative tax rate later this month to meet deadlines to deliver proposed tax and budget notices to property owners.

Impacts are expected to be at least as bad as the great recession a decade ago, Pasco budget director Robert Goehrig told commissioners as he scrolled through charts with plenty of negative numbers and graphs with lines plunging southward. The real picture is not yet clear because some numbers aren’t immediately known as the situation is still evolving.

His worst-case projects showed that county could lose $13.8 million of it’s $61.2 million general fund revenue derived from sales tax and ambulance transport fees, $557,000 out of its $2.8 million tourism revenue and $1.8 million of its$38.5 million Penny for Pasco sales tax money.

While the rising value of property will bring in another $14.8 million in property taxes, obligations including an additional $7.4 million, half the total of new money, goes to the Sheriff’s Office, and other funding requirements including increasing health care and retirement costs,not much will be left in the coffers.

Goehrig told commissioners of the 115 initiatives that had been planned for the coming year, there will only be money for 11 including the opening of the Starkey Library, an update in the county’s comprehensive plan and 2 percent pay raises for employees.

Commissioner Mike Wells asked whether the county could find the $500,000 that could bump that up to the 3 percent increases offered to state employees this year and the employees of the county’s constitutional officers. “I know it’s going to be a tough year,‘' he said, “but nothing is more important than our teams.‘'

County administrator Dan Biles said the 2 percent matched the inflation rate and he had to be mindful of what the rest of the community was dealing with at the current time.

Commissioner Kathryn Starkey pointed out that employees have been routinely getting 3 percent pay raises and that those increases add up over time. Along with other benefits, she said, “I feel we’re really taking good care of our employees.‘'

Commissioners agreed to leave the issue on the table for now to possibly revisit it before the budget is finalized .