Pasco residents already struggling with rising grocery bills and other inflation could also see additional increases in their property tax bills later this year.
Already, rising property values are bringing accompanying tax increases — and more money for county coffers. But with the county also planning to add to the tax burden of some residents with new assessments for road paving and canal dredging in coastal neighborhoods, some county commissioners are questioning whether some tax relief is in order for the 2023-24 budget.
Earlier this week, Budget Director Robert Goehrig gave Pasco County commissioners their first look at budget considerations. He noted that county income from property taxes is expected to increase by another 12% to 16%, giving the county millions more in revenue. But he also cautioned that Pasco has a lot of needs, including for more correctional officers to work at the expanded jail facility.
County Commissioner Seth Weightman urged caution in taking the windfall of property value rise. He suggested that before the commission sets tax rates they should “be mindful” of the cost increases to residents.
Fellow new commissioner Gary Bradford said he agreed.
But veteran commissioners gave another view during Tuesday’s discussion. Ron Oakley said that property values will start to decrease in time and things that need to be fixed now should be done. “We can’t keep kicking things down the road,” he said.
The canal dredging should have been done years ago, Oakley said. “You can’t cut back millage,” he said. “There won’t always be days like we’ve had the last few years.
“If you want to be a premier county … it costs money to be premier.”
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey remembered having a higher tax rate in the early 2000s. She said the county dropped the rate only to have state officials cut back on a county’s ability to increase property taxes. Caught at a low rate, she said, “we killed our libraries and our parks because our budget got hammered.”
Commission chairperson Jack Mariano said that the commission has needs and that residents have been clear about their needs. “We’re giving them the services that they want,” he said.
Last year, the county’s revenue from property taxes jumped nearly 17%. He said another 12% increase in property tax revenue this year, which is on the low end of estimates, would generate another $35 million, with the county’s share at about $18 million. Sheriff Chris Nocco gets 40% of the new money.
Goehrig said that the county has some upcoming expenses. When the new jail addition opens next year, another 200 corrections officers will be needed. The county could also face added expense if negotiations over the legal dispute with RADDSports, which operates the Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus, break down and the county has to take over.
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Because it is not assured that there won’t be an economic downturn in the coming months, he said the county needs to “keep agile” and focus much of the new money on one-time capital expenses while the funds are available. Those expenses can be pulled back if the financial picture darkens.
County Administrator Mike Carballa told commissioners that he and his staff have also prioritized pushing for more outside grant money from various sources in the next budget year “to bring home more of our taxpayer dollars.”
The first commission workshop on the budget is slated for May 16.