Pasco County’s revenues grew, but not as much as had been projected — before COVID-19 flattened the economy.
Pasco County commissioners last week approved the proposed tentative millage rates recommended by County Administrator Dan Biles.
“We are recommending no change in the operating millage rate of 7.6076, or the fire service MSTU (municipal services taxing unit) millage rate of 1.8036,” Robert Goehig, the county’s budget director told the board during its July 14 public meeting.
“Many of the general obligation millage rates are slightly higher than they were in 2020 because in ‘’(fiscal year 2020) ’20, we were paying interest only, and in (fiscal year 2021) ’21, we’re paying interest and principal.”
The board’s approval of its tentative rates means they will be reported in the Truth in Millage (TRIM) notices mailed to property owners in August. The board can choose to lower the rates but cannot raise them, when it adopts the county budget.
The board also set the first public hearing on the county’s budget for Sept. 8 at 5:15 p.m., in the Historic Pasco Courthouse, at 37918 Meridian Ave., in Dade City.
Because of the ever-evolving threat of COVID-19, it is unclear at this time whether that meeting will be open for public attendance, or will be conducted in some virtual manner.
The county’s taxable assessed values did increase by 7.7% this year, compared to an increase of 9.3% last fiscal year.
Goehig noted that property owners may receive tax bills that are higher than they were this year, but that’s because that would be a property gained value, not because of a higher tax rate.
“Under the Save Our Homes protections, the (increase for) taxable assessed value of homesteaded properties is capped at 3% or the change in the Consumer Price Index (CPI), whichever is less,” he said. Since the CPI is 2.3%, taxable values on homesteaded properties cannot increase by more than 2.3%, the budget director added.
Goehig also discussed some specific areas of the budget proposed for decreases and increases in the coming year.
“The biggest change is the tourism development fund. The reason for that is because we are expecting — because of the pandemic — not as many folks staying in hotels, and so on.
“So, we’re expecting revenues to go down, so likewise the amount of revenue to go down about 20%,” he said.
Despite the reduction, the county isn’t expecting any layoffs in that division, Goehig said, noting: “Our crack tourism team is standing by. They’re ready to do the best they can with the money that’s available.”
The fire/rescue department is facing a 10% decrease, Goehig added.
He explained: “That’s because with the pandemic, there’s fewer people out there driving. There’s fewer accidents. So, that the revenues going to fire/rescue are not as high as we had anticipated. So, we’re not really able to move forward with some of the business plan initiatives that we had incorporated into the fire department at that time.”
More funding is expected, though, in some areas.
“The libraries are increasing by almost 9%. We have a new library coming online this summer. That’s reflected there,” the budget director said.
“Parks and recreation increasing by almost 7%. That’s Starkey Ranch District Park. We’re gradually taking over the management of that park, so as we do that, we’re taking on some additional costs for that park,” Goehig added.
The proposed budget calls for a 2% increase for county employers, but it appears that a 3% raise is more likely to happen — based on sentiments expressed by board members.
County Commissioner Mike Wells has been vocal about his support for a 3% raise. That’s what both the county’s constitutional officers are proposing, and what Gov. Ron DeSantis has approved for state workers.
Commissioner Ron Oakley also went on record for a 3% raise for employees.
Commission Chairman Mike Moore put it like this: “We want to make sure that we’re all in line, i.e., the constitutionals that fall under our budget, when we talked about what percentage they’re giving. We talked about what we’re going to do. We want to make sure everybody’s in line.”
Commissioner Jack Mariano said the county typically gets some money back from its constitutional officers, so the board can look at the issue once it has a better idea of how much additional revenue it will have.
Mariano suggested making a decision on the salary issue “a little bit down the road.”
Commissioner Kathryn Starkey, however, voiced misgivings about providing a 3% raise.
“I think in today’s COVID time, 2% is a good raise,” Starkey said, adding she doesn’t know anything in the budget she wants to cut.
“I would be OK going with the 2% this year, and then maybe next year, catching back up when the economy is better,” Starkey said.
Published July 22, 2020