Pasco tax revenues are up this year

Rising property values in Pasco County could provide about $11 million in increased revenues.

That’s a bigger windfall than the $10.5 million initially projected.

That extra cash – about $650,000 – would play a key role in helping to close a $3.3 million gap in funding requests for 2019 from the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

Pasco County expected to receive final revenue data by July 1 from the Pasco County Property Appraiser’s office.

The Pasco County Commission received a budget update — including two possible scenarios on the sheriff’s budget — at a June 26 public workshop at Saint Leo University.

Both options on the sheriff’s budget relied on the $650,000 of additional revenue.

County commissioners quickly rejected one option to also withdraw $2.6 million from a reserve fund.

Instead, they accepted a staff recommendation to pair the $650,000 with budget cuts. An estimated $2.4 million for temporary on-site pods at the overcrowded Land O’ Lakes Detention Center would be delayed until 2020. And, a proposed $250,000 for Safety Town would be eliminated.

Commissioners agreed with the staff’s recommendation, except for cutting the Safety Town proposal.

Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Wells Jr., said funds should be found for Safety Town either from the county’s fund balance or new property tax revenues.

Safety Town is a safety education program for children, ages 5 to 8, that the sheriff’s office operates.

“It’s really for youth,” Wells said. “It’s needed. I think we need to absolutely fully support the sheriff on this.”

The sheriff’s budget for 2019 is nearly $133 million, an 11.5 percent increase. However, most of that increase is related to jail overcrowding.

While temporary on-site inmate housing would be delayed, the proposed budget still includes funds for out-of-county inmate housing.

The existing jail was built for a capacity of about 1,400 inmates but currently is about 200 inmates over that cap. While that’s a dip in recent weeks, the jail, at times, has had nearly 1,800 inmates.

“It’s a safety issue for deputies,” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco. “We’ve seen a spike in fights going on.”

Currently, Seminole County’s jail has about 60 of Pasco’s inmates, at a cost of under $74 a day per inmate.

The sheriff also said 13 new detention officers will be hired and trained during the next nine- to 12-month period.

When money is available for on-site pods, those officers will be ready, he said.

Commissioners also reviewed funding requests for about 40 items from various departments, split into two tiers based on priority.

One package would cost about $4.4 million for expenses such as wage increases for county employees, restoration of library hours, fire rescue stations, and an additional inmate work crew.

The other package of about $1.1 million would pay for new positions in departments, including public services and development services.

There also was a recommendation for $15,000 to the United Way of Pasco County, for an emergency fund to aid low-income residents who aren’t eligible for other programs.

Wells asked that funding for United Way be increased to $50,000. Later on, Pasco County Commissioner Jack Mariano suggested $100,000.

Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey asked for details on those expenses.

“I support the United Way. I just want to know where the money is coming from,” she said.

Anticipated property tax revenues might be enough to fund the United Way request, said Pasco County Administrator Dan Biles.

He also noted that county officials are taking a realistic approach to crafting the 2019 budget to withstand potential revenue losses for 2020.

A major concern is a November referendum for an additional $25,000 homestead exemption for homes valued more than $100,000. Most county officials expect it to pass, with a projected revenue loss as high as $14 million, effective for the 2020 budget.

Even so, Biles said county officials looked at the potential revenue losses “and what that would do to the budget so we don’t have to go back on any of these decisions for 2019.”

That includes the priority items for wages, library hours and new job positions, he said.

The county also has other referendums in November that could change spending priorities.

County commissioners recently approved four bond referendums for the November ballot that would bring new revenues for public safety, fire rescue, parks and libraries, if approved.

“If the park referendum doesn’t pass, we have a huge amount of backlog for our parks for safety reasons,” Starkey said. “I don’t want to see parks closing down.”

Published July 4, 2018

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