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Pinellas approves $3.4B budget, with lower tax rate but higher bills for homeowners

For the second year in a row, the county reduced its property tax rate, but owners will still pay about 4% more as values climb.
Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said the reduction of the county-wide property tax rate for the next year — approved with the next year's budget by the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday — marked just the second time in 35 years that the rate has been lowered two years in a row.
Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton said the reduction of the county-wide property tax rate for the next year — approved with the next year's budget by the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday — marked just the second time in 35 years that the rate has been lowered two years in a row. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Sep. 23|Updated Yesterday

For the second year in a row, Pinellas County residents will face a lower property tax rate — one that nevertheless means they’ll pay more, as property values continue to climb.

The new countywide rate, $4.7398 per $1,000 of assessed taxable value, was solidified Thursday night, as the Board of County Commissioners approved a $3.4 billion budget for the next year by a 6-1 vote.

That’s down from the past year’s rate, $5.13 per $1,000, but for property taxes to stay the same, commissioners would have had to reduce the rate even more, to about $4.57.

The new rate means Pinellas homeowners will pay a little under 4% more in property taxes. Last year, commissioners voted to reduce the rate from $5.27 to $5.13 per $1,000, the county’s first reduction in property tax rates in eight years.

County Administrator Barry Burton framed it like this: The baseline property tax rate is a full rollback, but with an additional rate added on top, to support the county’s transportation trust fund. For the past year, that extra rate was about 12 cents on each $1,000; for the next year, it’ll be about 30 cents. That comes out to $18.3 million in extra funding, all of which will go toward infrastructure improvements. Burton said it’s about half of what’s needed to bolster road resurfacing services over the next nine years, and half of what’s needed to adequately improve bridges and other infrastructure over the next five.

The rollback marks just the second time in the past 35 years that the county has lowered its property tax rate in consecutive years, Burton said.

The lone “no” vote on the budget came from Commissioner Dave Eggers, who proposed that the county dedicate 1% of its reserves, or about $1.1 million, to the infrastructure funding, and lower the tax rate in turn. That motion failed.

The budget was largely unchanged from what was first presented to commissioners in July. Among its key expenditures:

  • $1.3 million for the county’s new coordinated access model, which aims to bridge gaps between the county’s many behavioral- and mental-health nonprofits, to streamline resources and track outcomes among those who seek help. That comes alongside an increase of more than $300,000 in funding for nonprofits.
  • Raises for county employees, including a $1,200 increase to base salaries and a raise set at 3% of the midpoint of each position’s salary range. They’ll also get an additional, nonrecurring $1,200, to be doled out in two installments over the next year.
  • Nearly $1.4 million to the Safety and Emergency Services office for technological upgrades, including a new computer-aided dispatch system and 911 video. The Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller will get about $1.9 million to finish ongoing tech improvements.
  • Almost $1.2 million in salary increases for nurses at the Pinellas County Jail, in an effort to keep the jobs competitive.
  • A total of about $450,000 for new Parks and Conservation hires, including two additional rangers at Weedon Island Preserve and more maintenance workers at Fort De Soto Park.
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