DADE CITY — With the future appearing hopeful after months of coping with pandemic-related challenges, Pasco County officials this week expressed a positive outlook for the county’s financial picture in the next fiscal year.
Robert Goehrig, county budget director, told the County Commission Tuesday that after a tough year dealing with the fiscal impacts of COVID-19, key Pasco economic statistics including new home starts, the unemployment rate and healthy growth in the county’s sports tourism bring reason for optimism in the coming months.
Governments typically craft their annual spending plans this time of the year, and the county’s fiscal year starts on Oct. 1. Goehrig estimated that the important property value increase figure, which drives the amount of revenue the county receives through property taxes, could increase between 7 and 10 percent. That could mean a higher property value increase than even last year’s 7.7 percent.
“In 2021, we were very conservative,” Goehrig said. But if things do start to turn around for the 2022 fiscal year, Pasco “can turn back to investing’' in county projects.
The housing situation has been especially encouraging, as people came to Florida to escape the north during the COVID-19 crisis, creating both a shortage of existing real estate inventory and high interest in new construction. Housing starts in December were encouraging, with 600 new single family home permits, but January was even better, with roughly 900 permits pulled.
Goehrig said a national look at the top-selling housing communities ranked two Pasco developments, Starkey Ranch and Bexley, in the top 50.
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey urged adding into the discussion the permit numbers from business and industrial growth as well, explaining that it is important for people to see that the county continues to move away from just being a bedroom community.
Unemployment that rose from 3.4 percent to 14 percent at the peak of the pandemic is now stabilizing, dropping back down to 5.2 percent in December, Goehrig said.
He also shared that other indicators were mixed. Tourism tax revenue has been down as travel has been curtailed by the pandemic, but he hoped to see those numbers begin to rise. Commissioner Mike Moore pointed out that several recent sporting events hosted in Pasco venues were popular, with one generating 4,500 room nights in Pasco lodging which is the source of tourist tax.
But tourist tax is only one indicator of how visitors help Pasco’s economy, Goehrig said. In the last year, tourists spent an estimated half-billion dollars in the county.
Revenue from gas tax is expected to come back at some point as well, but likely not until 2021 draws to a close. Pasco budgets the taxes, which are used for road maintenance and construction, at a percentage of the full amount just to be safe, Goehrig said.
Some expenses will also increase in the coming year, including employee healthcare, the county’s share of Medicaid costs and the expense of updating the Pasco’s comprehensive plan, its blueprint for future growth.
Officials will know more when property values are finalized at the beginning of July.