Despite pay raises across the board, adding 45 full-time equivalent positions and even providing nearly everything Sheriff Chris Nocco asked for, Pasco County commissioners are expected to receive a draft budget Tuesday morning at the same general millage rate charged to property owners last year.
The proposed $1.21 billion budget is a little more than 3 percent higher than last year, but thanks to new construction and some increase in property values generating another $6.7 million, county budget officials were able to keep ad valorem millage at 7.3441, and the Municipal Fire Service Unit millage at 1.7165.
One mill represents $1 of tax on every thousand dollars of taxable property value. So a $100,000 home with $50,000 in exemptions would pay $367.21 for the year.
But there are still a lot of decisions that need to be made before the final numbers are complete, assistant county administrator Heather Grimes told reporters in a press briefing Monday. The biggest decision is how to fund capital improvement projects for Pasco’s roads — either through a 5-cent gas tax increase, a millage increase of more than 5 percent, or a combination of the two.
There has been considerable debate among commissioners on exactly how to do just that, with no clear consensus yet on which way they will go. Last year, the commission failed to pass an additional gas tax, falling a vote short.
If the county were to raise all $8 million through property taxes, it would mean an additional $20 a year to the typical homeowner’s tax bill. Proponents of a gas tax say those additional costs may not even be passed on to the consumer, since fueling stations operate more by volume than revenue.
The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office would see its budget increase more than $5 million under the proposed budget, providing everything Nocco had asked for except for $1.7 million he said he needed to switch healthcare coverage from fully insured to self-insured. Doing that could cut health insurance costs by around 2 percent, Grimes said, but the request came too late for the current budget cycle, and would likely create an additional tax increase to implement it.
To read more about Nocco’s long-range plans for the sheriff’s office, see the July 9 print edition of The Laker.
Spending on county parks will jump $571,000 to $8.9 million, but it’s still $1.1 million short of where Pasco funded them in 2008. That means park fees would remain in effect and staffing levels are still well below what they were nearly seven years ago.
Libraries also won’t get all they had hoped for. Part of the plan was to allow the libraries to once again open on Mondays, or at the very least extend hours on existing days. Even a plan to open just two libraries — including the Land O’ Lakes branch — on Mondays didn’t make the cut with its $279,000 price tag.
Pasco County is seeing an uptick in property values, which has allowed the government to fund additional programs without raising millage. However, it’s lagging behind neighboring counties in the region, which have experienced value increases of between 5.3 percent and 7.5 percent, Grimes said. The only county that didn’t fare better in value increases was Hernando, but not by much.
Some initiatives from last year already are paying off, Grimes said. The county’s conversion to a self-insured health plan saved the county nearly $1 million, or about $300 per employee annually. The current budget has made some room to implement wellness centers for county employees, which officials say could create even more cost savings in the future because of its preventive medical care.
The first public hearing for the budget is expected to take place Sept. 9 in Dade City, followed by a second one Sept. 23 in New Port Richey. Commissioners will hear details of the proposed budget for the first time during its regular meeting July 8 beginning at 10 a.m. at the Historic Pasco County Courthouse in Dade City.