DADE CITY — As with any spending plan, priorities continue to be an issue for the Pasco County Commission as they begin to make decisions on their 2021-22 budget.
On Tuesday, they set a tentative tax rate that is little changed from the current millage and agreed to continue a multi-year plan to steadily increase the solid waste assessment and tipping fees. But commissioners stopped short of giving county firefighters and the Clerk of the Circuit Court Nikki Alvarez-Sowles everything they hoped for.
Commissioners set their general tax rate at the same level as the current budget year, which is 7.6 mills or $7.60 in tax for every $1,000 in appraised taxable property value. They also set the fire fee at the same 1.8 mills or $1.80 in tax per $1,000 in value. Tax for additional voter-approved bond issues for community improvements could also rise slightly.
County budget director Robert Goehrig pointed out that any increases property owners will see in tax bills will be attributable to increases in taxable values rather than tax rate increases.
On July 1, county property appraiser Mike Wells certified final values for Pasco properties for the upcoming budget year, and Pasco’s overall value rose from $31.7 billion to $35.1 billion — a 10.4 percent increase. City values also rose, with the highest increase, 12.3 percent, in Zephyrhills, from $843 million to $947 million. New Port Richey property values rose from $668 million to $724 million, an 8.3 percent increase.
The proposed solid waste assessment will rise from the current $79 to $86 on a scheduled year-to-year increase established by the commission in 2018 to keep up with rising costs and an expanding waste disposal responsibility. Tipping fees paid by commercial entities will also increase as previously approved, from $72.08 per ton to $78.47.
Prior to their vote, commissioners heard pleas for additional funding from several firefighters and firefighter union representatives. Their major concerns were on response times longer than 10 minutes in some areas and as increasing needs for specialized public safety equipment as the county continues to grow.
County administrator Dan Biles said that in the coming year, Pasco will add two new fire stations, along with three rescue units and two engines, which will help address some of the needs. These will be funded by property value increases and community improvements in fire services that residents have already supported.
Single family home permits are again on track to bring in an even higher amount of property tax revenue next year, allowing more improvements in fire safety a year from now, Biles said.
Alvarez-Sowles asked commissioners to again consider her request for an increase in her budget. She has argued that she needs nearly $9 million more in funding to provide services required by Florida law. While she argues that those services are a county requirement to provide, the county disagrees, and has only granted a portion of her request for more information technology funding.
County attorney Jeffrey Steinsnyder said that Alvarez-Sowles contends that the expenses for the West Pasco Judicial Center are the county’s responsibilities, while the county administration contends they are not.
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Pasco property owners will see tentative tax notices in their mailboxes in several weeks, but final budget decisions by the commission will not happen until September. The first of two public hearings for the tax rates and spending plan is set for Sept. 13 at 5:15 p.m. at the Dade City Historic Courthouse.