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Monday, Jul 28, 2014
Pasco Tribune

County budget would include 10% tax increase

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DADE CITY - Pasco County residents could see their property tax rate increase 10 percent next year if commissioners adopt the $1.16 billion budget released Tuesday.

That translates to an additional $82 a year for the owner of a $150,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption.

Despite the tax hike, County Administrator Michele Baker called it a no-frills budget.

"It's a flat budget," she said. "It covers our retirement costs and it gives something back to our employees. What we're talking about here is maintaining the current level of service."

Assistant County Administrator Heather Grimes said the increase is the price commissioners have to be willing to pay to reach their goal of becoming a premier county and without it, the county would face a $17 million shortfall. The combined millage for county and fire service would go from 8.3 mills to 9.1 mills, but such an increase would require a minimum of four votes. A mill equates to $1 per $1,000 of taxable value.

"This is the first time we are proposing an increase since 2007," Grimes said.

County employees would get 3 percent pay raises - their first raises in six years. But county firefighters would only get a 1.5 percent raise.

Commissioners reasoned that firefighters received 5 percent pay raises in 2009 and 2011 when no other employees did. But the recommendation likely will not go over well with union leaders, who urged their members to ratify a contract in March after commissioners pledged to support the pay raises.

Sheriff Chris Nocco wouldn't get the $93 million he asked for. Grimes said the recommended budget is $2.4 million less than his request, but it includes funding to cover higher retirement rates and employee pay raises. Nocco also gets the money needed to open and staff the third floor of the county's jail.

In addition, commissioners could agree to use $900,000 from Penny For Pasco to buy unmarked police cars for detectives, but that would require a policy change.

Commissioners will hold a special budget workshop with Nocco on Aug. 6.

Grimes said the budget anticipates that a new tax collector would keep the majority of excess fees to build new offices. Last year, Tax Collector Mike Olson returned close to $2.5 million to the county; that amount would be reduced to $1 million.

The budget includes an additional 5-cent gas tax, but that's a decision commissioners will have to approve. The additional tax would generate about $5.9 million next year for street paving and maintenance.

The proposed budget would create nearly 60 new jobs - half of which would go to increase staffing in the county's development services and building inspection departments. Grimes said the new positions would be filled in stages, as construction activity increases countywide.

"We're not going to go out and hire 30 people on Oct. 1," she said. "There are certain benchmarks that trigger when positions are needed."

Other new positions include a public information officer, a sports marketing coordinator, a bicycle/pedestrian coordinator and a librarian specializing in e-readers and tablets. New positions also will be created in Animal Services, Utilities and Solid Waste.

In other business, commissioners agreed to revisit the timeline for awarding a bid for a new criminal courthouse in the fall rather than delaying the project for a full year.

Chief Judge Thomas McGrady was joined by State Attorney Bernie McCabe and Public Defender Bob Dillenger in asking the board to move the $28 million project forward, but commissioners wanted to complete a countywide facilities master plan before committing to build the courthouse.

lkinsler@tampatrib.com

(813) 371-1852

Twitter: @LKinslerTBO

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