Pasco County commissioners are looking at a projected budget of about $1.5 billion for 2017.
The proposed budget holds the line on new taxes, but allows some room for new services, programs, staff hires and capital improvements.
As county staff was completing the budget, they received news that property tax revenues would be about $1.8 million more than expected.
The additional cash helped avoid a repeat of last year’s scrappy debates over the budget request from the Pasco County Sheriff’s office.
This year’s budget, if approved, provides an additional $6.3 million for the sheriff’s office. The money would go for salary raises, equipment and new hires.
Other expenditures in the proposed budget include $331,000 for a bus circulator route in Land O’ Lakes, and $60,000 to hire a federal lobbyist.
Still, the budget overall reflects a “modest growth philosophy” amid an economy that is slowly recovering, Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker wrote in a letter to the commissioners.
The new fiscal year begins Oct. 1.
Commissioners received a briefing on July 12 on the proposed budget.
Public hearings on the budget are scheduled on Sept. 13 in Dade City and on Sept. 27 in New Port Richey.
Overall, the 2017 budget reflects an increase of less than 6 percent, or about $85 million, over last year’s budget.
The millage rate would remain unchanged from its current rate of about $7.60 per $1,000 of property value for the general fund, and about $1.80 per $1,000 of property value for the fire district.
However, county officials said the typical homeowner, with a homestead exemption, could pay almost $7 more in property taxes in 2017, based on rising property values.
“I’m pretty satisfied with the budget,” said Pasco County Commissioner Mike Moore.
The bus route in Land O’ Lakes, for example, is a significant addition to the community, he said. “It’s one of our major corridors (U.S. 41) and the only one that doesn’t have bus transit. Hopefully, it will relieve traffic congestion.”
One item not included in the budget was a request for more weekend and evening operating hours at the county’s libraries. The request was to restore the hours to 2008 levels.
County officials balked, saying the recurring costs were too high.
“I would like to see us ease back into increasing library hours,” Moore said. But that seems unlikely for now, he added.
The total tax roll increased from about $20 billion in 2016 to $22.9 billion in 2017. The assessed value of new construction increased about $777 million.
In May, the Pasco County Property Appraiser’s office had projected a 5.5 percent increase in property tax revenues. But, based on additional data, valuations rose about 7.2 percent, and accounted for the additional $1.8 million in revenues.
The initial estimates were just that – estimates, said Pasco County Property Appraiser Mike Wells Sr. Typically, the numbers tick upward, but he said the increase was “a little larger than usual.”
“The county is doing well now,” he said. “Everybody seems to be cooking right along.”
With a fatter wallet than expected, departmental budget requests generally were easier to accommodate.
The total budget for the sheriff’s office for 2017, if approved, would be about $110 million, up from about $104 million in 2016.
The $6.3 million increase would fund a second year of salary raises of about 8 percent on average for sheriff’s employees.
The sheriff pushed for the funds in an attempt to prevent the loss of deputies to other Tampa Bay area law enforcement agencies with higher wages.
The sheriff’s office 2017 budget also includes 24 additional fulltime employees at a cost of about $4.9 million. Patrol laptops would be replaced at a cost of about $703,000.
But, not everything the sheriff initially requested was approved. A radio tester position and a traffic control officer for Moon Lake Elementary School were removed.
Other items funded in the proposed budget include:
- A fire rescue ambulance and crew for Fire Station 37 on State Road 54, at Ballantrae
- The design and construction of Fire Station 38 at Watergrass Town Center
- A code enforcement initiative to clean up major corridors, such as U.S. 41 and U.S. 19
- A 12-member special operations team for unique rescue situations
- An average 4.8 percent pay raise for county employees
- A pilot program with the homeless diversion program
- In-house mowing, paving and sidewalk crews
- An additional fire inspector to focus on new construction review and inspection
- Continued upgrades on radio dispatch equipment
- The addition of two arson investigators
Published July 20, 2016