NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco commissioners on Tuesday approved a tentative tax rate for 2021 operating fund equal to last year’s rate and got their first look at the proposed $785.9 million operating budget for next year.
While the proposed budget increases, this year’s finances have taken a bit hit from the coronavirus.
“Our challenge,” county administrator Dan Biles says in his annual budget letter, “is to design a realistic game plan that relies on our strengths to provide the services upon which our businesses, residents and visitors depend.‘'
He writes that, “Instead of bemoaning the loss of resources,” the county will rely on its employees who have performed well despite the challenges and established planning and financial management to weather the financial storm.
Biles calls the proposed budget “a realistic game plan'' sustained by it’s five-year financial forecasting model.
The proposed operating fund budget is slightly lower than last year’s adopted budget of $791.9 million. The overall county budget proposed including all capital funds, debt service and reserves would rise from last year’s adopted budget of $1.465 billion to $1.591 billion.
The county has lost millions of dollars in sales taxes, road taxes, government service fees and tourist tax revenue during the stay-at-home orders and from shuttered businesses, canceled events and falling tourism numbers. The county has responded by curtailing the filling of some open positions and limiting its list of needed new projects.
During Tuesday’s meeting, commissioners shifted nearly $1 million of unspent money for staff travel and education into reserves for other expenses. They also talked briefly about the proposed general county employee raises of 2 percent, which satisfied Commissioner Kathryn Starkey but not Commissioner Mike Wells who vowed to bring up the issue again later. Wells wants to see a 3 percent increase.
The tentative operating budget tax rate approved will amount to $7.60 in tax per $1,000 in appraised taxable property value. Fire taxes account for a tax rate of $1.80 per $1,000 in value. Both of those portions of the bill have stayed the same since 2015.
This year, property owners will contribute for the second year to paying back four voter–approved bond issues for parks and library renovations, new fire stations and an expanded jail. Those portions of the tax bill amount to approximately 10 cents per $1,000 in taxable value. That is a bit higher than last year, when property owners paid only the interest on those bond issues. Robert Goehrig, director of the office of management and budget, told commissioners that this year, property owners are also paying some of the principal.
Another factor in the tax bill is property value. Pasco’s certified property values have increased by 7.7 percent, an estimate of value in 2019 before the pandemic appeared. With the current financial downturn, it is unclear where those values will go in the future, according to Gary Joiner, property appraiser.
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On Tuesday commissioners also approved an increase in the solid waste assessments, which also appear on the tax bill, from $72 to $79. This is the second year of a multi-year disposal assessment increase designed to help expand the capacity of the county’s waste to energy operation.
Preliminary tax notices will go out on August 17 and the first county budget hearing is September 8 at 5:15 p.m. at the Historic Pasco County Courthouse in Dade City.