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    Values rise for Pinellas properties

    In St. Petersburg, that means a little breathing room as city officials try to balance the operating budget.

    By ALICIA CALDWELL, Times Staff Writer
    © St. Petersburg Times
    published May 9, 2002

    Good, but not great. Strong, but not spectacular.

    Those were the sorts of words officials in south Pinellas' largest cities used Wednesday to describe property values -- a key component of tax revenues -- released by the Pinellas property appraiser.

    Given the events of Sept. 11 and the related economic downturn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said the city expected values to increase by a conservative 3.5 percent.

    The near doubling of that -- city values increased by 6.5 percent -- will give officials a little breathing room as they attempt to balance a $185-million operating budget.

    "It helps our budget planning by $1.5-million," Baker said. "But we still have big budget issues to deal with."

    Their breathing room, however, is likely to eventually translate into a larger tax bill for homeowners -- unless government officials across the board slash tax rates.

    Countywide, property values increased by 6.9 percent between 2001 and 2002. But homeowners should expect their individual property tax value changes to vary widely.

    If you bought a house last year, brace yourself. A decade ago, voters amended the state Constitution, limiting annual increases in homestead property values to the rate of inflation, or no more than 3 percent. But if the property changes hands, the property appraiser gets a chance to adjust the value, which usually means to increase it.

    The value is multiplied by the millage rate -- more casually known as the tax rate -- for each taxing district, such as the county, school district and your municipality.

    Last year, countywide tax values increased by 9.1 percent.

    If values stayed low, governments would be more likely to raise tax rates or cut services. Many local governments already are worried about budgeting next year because other revenues, such as sales taxes, have dropped with the poor economy. But costs keep going up.

    "Our goal has been all along, to hold the line on our taxes," said County Commission chairman Barbara Sheen Todd. "This enhances our opportunity to do that."

    The increase will mean an extra $16.7-million in property tax revenue for Pinellas County, said administrator Steve Spratt. But that doesn't stretch far in a $1.5-billion budget.

    "It's not really that significant when you consider the increased cost of providing services next year," he said.

    Generally, the county's larger, more established, built-out cities such St. Petersburg, Clearwater, Pinellas Park, Seminole and Largo had the lowest property value increases. They were in the 5 percent to 7 percent range.

    "We were thinking it would be more," said Dan Katsiyiannis, head of Pinellas Park's office of management and budget. "It's not a financial catastrophe or anything. But it's going to be a tighter budget year than we had hoped."

    St. Petersburg's downtown district increased by more than 9 percent, though much of that was attributable to a one-time increase from new projects coming onto the tax rolls.

    The story was different, however in the south beach towns. Values surged, and it wasn't due to new construction. The impact of the increases are moderated by the relatively small part beach values play in the county's overall value.

    Treasure Island property increased by an average of 12.4 percent; St. Pete Beach, 10.5 percent; Redington Shores, 14.1 percent; Redington Beach, 15.5 percent; North Redington Beach, 14 percent; and Madeira Beach, 14.6 percent. Frank Hurley, a real estate agent who specializes in south beach properties, said the rocketing of values in the past few years has been a phenomenon to behold.

    "Prior to the year 2000, you could get something on the beachfront for under a million," Hurley said. Now, he said, that's a rarity.

    Hurley said he worried that real estate activity would level off in the economic uncertainty that followed Sept. 11.

    "I hate to admit it, but when I got back to my office on Sept. 11th, I thought, 'Uh oh. There goes the real estate business.' I was wrong."

    -- Times staff writer Lisa Greene contributed to this report.

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