The Pasco Economic Development Council might have plans on how the county can spend new revenue from the Penny for Pasco tax. But the group itself might have to take a back seat in how that money is used.
“We’ve been entrusted by the public to spend $5 million a year over the next 10 years, and the Pasco Economic Development Council has asked to participate in that spend with us,” county administrator Michele Baker told Pasco County commissioners at a recent meeting. “Instead of being buried in planning and development, it needs to be in a place where it is clearly transparent. And nothing against PEDC, but I’m not comfortable with handing over that money. They are not subject to the same oversight as we are.”
The Pasco EDC, a private organization that works to market the county to businesses and industry, had proposed to the commission last April that it borrow against the Penny for Pasco tax. They could then use the funds for projects like assembling land, constructing offices and warehouses on speculation, and even possibly considering a convention center, all to help attract outside business to the county.
“We’d rather get some of that revenue upfront now, so that we can get more of an impact over the 10-year period, rather than wait,” Pasco EDC president and chief executive John Hagen told commissioners at the time. “We need jobs, and we need economic development now.”
Baker did agree with one of the primary recommendations Hagen made: the county needs to act sooner rather than later. Even with nearly $5 million sitting in the bank right now from projects yet to get underway like from Raymond James Financial and T. Rowe Price, those funds are for small players, Baker said, and not enough for something “big and impactful.”
For the county to take command, however, commissioners need to beef up the development staff, Commissioner Kathryn Starkey said. Melanie Kendrick has been a one-woman show when it has come to such projects in the past, but it’s too much for just a single person to handle.
“To me, this is one of the most important things we can do,” Starkey said. “This is how we lift our county up and become that premier county and be attractive to those kind of companies that we want to bring here.”
Money to add people to the payroll is going to have to come from somewhere, however, and commissioners may have to look at ways to accomplish it, either by raising development fees — which are by far some of the lowest in the state — or possibly even by raising taxes.
If property owners paid the same amount of taxes they did last year, the county would increase its overall revenue by $3.4 million — fueled primarily by new construction. If Pasco decided to keep the same millage as last year, at 7.3441 mills, taxes for typical homeowners could go up by as much as $12.40 each year. But it would generate an additional $5.87 million in revenue, with new construction once again contributing, as well as rising property values.
Even those dollars, however, might not be enough to pay for everything commissioners want to budget — like a 3 percent pay increase for county employees, across the board.
“We would like to have an increase in salary,” Commissioner Ted Schrader said. “But that is going to eat up the $5.8 million to get that done, so we know where we’re starting.”
With road improvements still needed, there’s a strong possibility that part of those funds will come from an additional increase in property taxes, something Schrader has said he opposes. If that were to happen, it would generate approximately $5 million in additional revenue, but cost typical homeowners an additional $24 in property taxes each year.
Commissioners have yet to be presented with next year’s budget, but could start seeing early drafts as soon as next month.
Published June 25, 2014
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