The Pasco County Commission has approved a tax hike intended to reduce the county’s response time to fires and to improve the county’s ability to keep its firefighters from leaving for jobs with better pay in nearby counties.
Nobody got exactly what they wanted in the vote.
The current Fire Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) is 1.8 mills. The new rate will be 2.1225 mills.
One mill is equal to $1 of every $1,000 of taxable value.
At the first public hearing on the budget, County Administrator Mike Carballa recommended the Fire MSTU rate be increased from 1.8 mills to 2.3 mills.
He said the half-mill increase was based on a 10-year plan to keep the department solvent, improve pay for firefighters, provide manpower for new stations and cover costs for some additional initiatives.
Carballa’s initial recommendation encountered pushback from Commissioner Seth Weightman and resistance from the public.
At the first public hearing, Commission Chairman Jack Mariano recommended Carballa come back with an increase tied to a five-year plan for the department.
Carballa presented that plan at the second public hearing on Sept. 19, recommending a new millage rate of 2.159 mills for the Fire MSTU.
Weightman and the public again pushed back.
Weightman said he would not support a rate of more than 2.0 mills and made a motion to that effect. That motion died for a lack of a second.
Members of the public applauded Weightman for his efforts to hold the line on taxes and for being empathetic to their plight.
Speakers urged the board to raise impact fees — to force new growth to pay for its impacts.
They said the county needs to get help from other revenue sources.
They said the county — like its residents — should respond to inflation by tightening its belt.
While expressing support for firefighters, some residents reminded the county board that people are hurting and inflation is making it hard for them to pay their own bills.
They predicted rising costs will force longtime residents to move elsewhere.
While Weightman wanted to take what he called “a measured approach,” his colleagues on the board said that failing to achieve an adequate increase would merely push the problem down the road.
“By not facing this now, don’t think it’s going to be cheaper next year,” Commissioner Kathryn Starkey told Weightman. “It’s going to cost more next year.”
Mariano told Weightman: “We’re trying to cut down response times.”
Commissioner Ron Oakley also supported a larger increase.
Starkey attempted a compromise by calling for a reduction in the millage rate, from the current rate of 7.6076 mills to 7.57 mills.
The board approved that cut, on a 4-1 vote, with Weightman dissenting.
The board also directed Carballa to address the reduced revenues from the millage rate reduction through across-the-board cuts to the budget, including budgets of the constitutional officers, when legally possible. The constitutional officers are the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, the Clerk & Comptroller’s Office, the Supervisor of Elections and the Tax Collector’s Office.
Initially, Weightman would not budge from a maximum millage of 2.0 for the Fire MSTU.
He told his colleagues: “I truly believe we need to hold the line for folks.”
He told fellow board members they had the power to help citizens now and should.
But after being unable to bring other board members around to his way of thinking, and after a number of failed votes, Weightman relented and joined his colleagues in approving Starkey’s motion for a 2.1225 millage rate for the Fire MSTU.
Carballa said the new rate is estimated to generate $13.9 million, and is expected to keep the fire department solvent for a solid four years.
Published September 27, 2023