Government officials across the Tampa Bay area know their constituents are struggling with inflation and the resulting sticker shock. They can see the impact on the cost of gas, groceries and pretty much everything else, and they are aware many residents have had to cut back or do without. But empathy, apparently, goes only so far. Most local officials appear disinclined to lower property tax rates despite eye-popping increases in tax revenues courtesy of skyrocketing property values.
Governments across the Tampa Bay area say there are too many public needs to lower property tax rates, even if that would put money back into homeowners’ pockets when they badly need it. They point to new roads, more affordable housing and enhanced police and fire protection as areas that require greater financial support, and we don’t disagree. But when you consider the sheer size of the tax windfall about to come, it’s hard not to think officials are being a little piggy.
Assessed property values sent to the state earlier this month show double-digit percentage increases across Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Remember, even if the tax rate — the millage — stays the same, your tax bill will go up if the taxable value of your property rises. And that bill is what matters to your pocketbook. Hillsborough alone is expected to bring in an additional $153 million in property tax revenues, which would be available for spending beginning in October. Pasco is expected to generate $87.6 million in new money.
“I would love to be able to roll back the millage, especially during these difficult times,’’ Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told the Tampa Bay Times. But the city, she says, badly needs new investment in transportation and affordable housing, among other areas. Clearwater officials want to add about 62 employees to improve public services. Pasco commissioners are mulling dozens of spending proposals, ranging from public safety to bus stop renovations to serve the disabled. All are worthy projects. But would it really be so disastrous to delay or scale back a few of them so the folks who pay the bills can hang on to some of their money? The governments could tweak their rates so they would still get more money than last year, but taxpayers would take less of a hit.
Consider the attitude in Pinellas, where tax relief is more of a priority. Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton is expected to propose a partial rollback in the tax rate. St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch also is considering reducing the tax rate in his city. In both cases, the impact on taxpayers will vary depending on how much their individual property values rose.
Many homeowners, of course, are protected from dramatic annual tax hikes by the Save Our Homes cap, which limits annual property value increases to a maximum of 3 percent. Once a property is sold or transferred, however, the assessment is reset to full market value.
In coming weeks, governments across Tampa Bay will be holding public hearings on their proposed budgets for the next fiscal year, which will be set in the fall. Some officials appear uncomfortable with the idea of lowering tax rates when coffers are flush because it might force them to raise them down the road. But isn’t making such decisions their job?
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We urge residents to attend the hearings, if only to remind elected officials that much of the property tax money they are looking to spend came from their hard-pressed wallets.
Ask them a simple question: If this isn’t a good time to provide property tax relief, when will it be?
Editorials are the institutional voice of the Tampa Bay Times. The members of the Editorial Board are Editor of Editorials Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinion news.