1. Pasco

How do you know the economy is booming? Check the trash barrels at the curb

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County's budget office charts three things to help keep track of the local economy: building permits, sales tax receipts and trash.

In other words, the amount of stuff being built, stuff being bought and stuff being thrown away. You would think some might stop after viewing all the hammers meeting nails around the county.

"Really no slowdown in sight looking at those building permits,'' budget director Bob Goehrig told commissioners Tuesday morning.

The county issued 3,537 permits for new single-family homes in 2018, triple the amount from six years earlier. Just in March of this year, builders obtained nearly 500 permits, a monthly pace that hasn't been seen since before the Great Recession.

For confirmation, the county's proceeds from its half-cent sales tax is growing 4 percent annually and is expected to reach $35 million in 2020, up from less than $30 million four years ago. And to be sure about a continuing boom, the waste incinerator in Shady Hills is burning at capacity. People are expected to dispose of 350,0000 tons of trash this year, a level not reached since 2007, and up more than 100,000 tons over six years ago.

When the economy is strong, people buy new and throw out the old, said Goehrig.

What the numbers add up to is a continued strong economy expected to produce a 9.5 percent increase in the county's tax rolls, matching last year's growth rate. That would generate more than $18.5 million in new money for the county, with a status quo tax rate, as commissioners get down to preparing their budget for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Admittedly, the information shared at the budget workshop Tuesday was incomplete. Budget proposals from Sheriff Chris Nocco, Clerk of the Court and Comptroller Paula S. O'Neil and Elections Supervisor Brian Corley weren't due until later in the week. Property Appraiser Gary Joiner's proposed budget isn't required until June 1.

So commissioners got a preview of some of their own staff's spending requests, including technology upgrades, a kayak launch at Sun West Park, baseball diamonds at Starkey District Park and raises for employees. Also, non-profit agencies are seeking an additional $669,000 in county contributions, including $350,000 to Premier Community Healthcare for indigent care. The county dipped into reserve accounts to finance the program in 2018, but declined to do so in the current budget.

Even with a status quo property tax rate, homesteaded property owners will pay slightly more because of growing property values that are capped at 3 percent.

But tax bills due beginning Nov. 1 also will include new voter-approved taxes for a new jail, fire stations and refurbished parks and libraries. Additionally, the commission has discussed increasing the annual trash assessment to expand the incinerator, stormwater assessments to pay for drainage projects and increasing county water and sewer rates to buy utility systems from the Florida Governmental Utility Authority that serve Gulf Harbors and two other locations.

That brought a recent caution from Commissioner Mike Moore, who relayed public objections to the proposed stormwater and utility rate hikes.

"I just want to let everybody know that I'm getting a lot of push-back from a lot of citizens in central, east (Pasco),'' he told commissioners during an April 23 meeting. "I would assume you're going to hear a lot of push-back from a lot of people. They're getting louder.''

Commissioners are scheduled for more budget discussions June 25 and plan to set the tentative tax rate on July 9. The proposed budget is subject to two public hearings before final adoption in September.

Contact C.T. Bowen at or (813) 435-7306. Follow @CTBowen2.