When Pasco property owners get their preliminary tax notice in August, they are going to see a proposed 27.5% increase in the tax they pay for Pasco County fire protection.
While the tax is only a small part of the overall tax bill, roughly increasing the cost just 50 cents per $1,000 in property value, it adds up. It would tack on an additional $150 to the tax bill for a $350,000 home with homestead tax exemptions.
It is also a departure from the county’s approach on other portions of the bill where the plan is to keep the tax rate stable. The topic also generated lively debate among commissioners earlier this week.
Robert Goehrig, Pasco’s budget director, told county commissioners that that the current fire millage isn’t sufficient to keep the department’s reserve at the recommended 16.7%, a level suggested by the Government Finance Officers Association and approved by the commission several years ago.
He said that would get worse if the tax rate didn’t increase. Even with the increase, projections show that the problem would resurface in the coming years. Goehrig said that the fire department is going to have to control costs.
Commissioners said the new county fire chief, Anthony Perez, who was introduced to them on Tuesday and who starts in August, has his work cut out for him.
The fire tax — from 1.8036 to 2.3 mills — was not universally supported by commissioners. A mill is $1 in tax per every $1,000 of appraised taxable property value. Commissioner Seth Weightman said he was worried about residents who are already grappling with inflation.
“Our residents are feeling it. Our seniors are feeling it,” he said.
Goehrig told commissioners that the new tax rate would allow the county to increase salaries for fire personnel to 95% of what Hillsborough County pays. It also would cover the automatic bump in pay firefighters get for each year of service under their union contract.
Pasco has plans to add five new fire stations in the coming years. While other money pays for the construction of fire stations and purchase of equipment, new staffing will be needed and the increase in the tax would help with that expense, Goehrig said. Calls for service also are rising and “we need more boots on the ground,” he said.
Goehrig told commissioners that when they consider the final tax rate in September all five commissioners will have to vote for the hike because of the level of increase proposed. Weightman said he would agree to send the tax notices out with the higher amount but would need more information and justification before voting to approve that rate.
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Other commissioners voiced strong support for the increase. Commission chairperson Jack Mariano asked about the cost of fire stations and staff told him that the fire station that could be built for $2.5 million several years ago now costs $7.5 million. The county has to provide the money needed for the service, he said.
Commissioner Ron Oakley said taxpayers spoke in the past referendum saying they supported building fire stations because fire service response was important to them.
Commissioners also agreed to keep the general fund tax rate, which largely covers other operating expenses, at 7.6076 mills, as recommended by county staff.
That’s roughly $7.61 in tax per $1,000 in appraised taxable property value. For a same home appraised at $350,000, the tax bill to support general county services would be $2,282.
Goehrig said that the final certified property value calculation showed values increased countywide by 16.5%, which will generate an additional $49 million in tax dollars than this budget year.