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Pinellas County commissioners adopt final $2.9 billion budget

Property owners will pay 2.56% more, despite a lower tax rate.
Pinellas County commissioners adopted a final $2.9 billion budget for the new fiscal year.
Pinellas County commissioners adopted a final $2.9 billion budget for the new fiscal year. [ Pinellas County ]
Published Sep. 22
Updated Sep. 22

The Pinellas County property tax rate will go down next year, but residents will still pay a little bit more in taxes because of the increase in property values.

In July, county administrator Barry Burton recommended commissioners roll back the tax rate from from $5.27 per $1,000 of assessed taxable value, to $5.01 per $1,000.

Had commissioners approved that rate, residents would not have seen an increase in the amount they owed to the general fund this year.

But the rollback rate was coupled with a 5-cent increase to the county’s gas tax in order to generate money needed to replenish the Transportation Trust Fund, which supports road and infrastructure repairs.

Commissioners rejected that proposal and asked Burton to return to the drawing board to find another way to support transportation infrastructure.

The resolution was to tax property owners an additional $0.13 per $1,000 more than what Burton originally proposed. Earlier this month, commissioners approved the new plan with a vote of 5 - 2. The tax will collect $12 million specifically for road maintenance.

Throughout the course of budget discussions, county officials emphasized the fiscal responsibility of the proposed budget and asserted there were savings to taxpayers because of the newly reduced tax rate.

Even with the additional tax designated for transportation, the approval of the new tax marked the first year county officials had lowered the property tax rate since 2007.

“We’re putting more money towards capital, and we’re rolling back the property tax rate,” Burton told commissioners on Sept. 9. “That’s a very, very good news story that we’re presenting for you tonight.”

But before the final vote on Tuesday, some residents called that framing deceiving.

John Pfanstiehl, an Indian Rocks Beach resident, said that the emphasis on reductions to the property tax rate — also called millage rate — was misleading.

“Millage is complicated. I’ve seen commissioners who didn’t understand the basics of millage,” Pfanstiehl told the commission on Tuesday. “[Residents] don’t care about a millage rate, they care about whether their taxes are going up.”

With the final budget and tax rates approved, the average homeowner in Pinellas will pay about $21 more to the general fund in the coming year.

Commissioner Kathleen Peters said she believes that any increase to taxpayers is wrong when the county is sitting on $189 million from the American Rescue Plan, the $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief package passed by Congress and signed by President Joe Biden earlier this year. She said that money could be used to fund transportation infrastructure this year, instead of the designated tax.

“I just can’t understand why we would consider raising taxes,” Peters said. “Why would we not consider giving our citizens a break.”

She previously opposed and voted against the 5-cent gas tax increase. During consideration of the tentative budget earlier this month, she changed course, suggesting the gas tax would distribute some of the financial burden to tourists who used county roads, but the option had already been taken off the table.

Had the commissioners chosen to adopt the gas tax increase, drivers would have paid an average of $27 more per year at the pump.

“It was decided nobody wanted to do the gas tax a few weeks ago,” Commissioner Charlie Justice responded at that meeting. “That’s how we got [to the designated millage].”

Justice voted in support of the final budget and general fund tax rate. Commissioners Peters and Dave Eggers cast the two no votes. They’re both up for reelection next year.

The $2.9 billion budget includes an approximately $135.9 million increase from the previous fiscal year.

About 64 percent of the funds will go to operating and capital costs — which include funding the airport, solid waste, animal services, EMS, parks and public works.

Approximately 21 percent will fund internal service funds including business technology services and risk management, Human Resources, Court support, including the public defender and state attorney, and unincorporated districts fire departments, libraries and recreation.

The remaining 15 percent will go to funding constitutional officers, which include the Clerk of the Circuit Court & Comptroller, Property Appraiser, Sheriff, Supervisor of Elections, and Tax Collector. The vast majority of those funds are dedicated to the Sheriff, and will support in-car video systems, helicopter replacement, increased marine patrol and funds to expand the Sheriff’s mental health and safety program.

The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.