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Tax pitch is hard sell in Tierra Verde

The county administrator acknowledges the community already pays a lot of taxes and doesn'treceive as many services.

By ANDREW MEACHAM
© St. Petersburg Times
published August 18, 2002


TIERRA VERDE -- Steve Spratt did his best to sell a roomful of residents on the virtues of a proposed tax increase by Pinellas County. But as he had to know going in, it was a tall order.

Spratt, the county administrator, made his case Thursday before the Tierra Verde Community Association. Saying the county commissioners had asked him to find ways to be more responsive to the 280,000 residents in unincorporated areas, he said that a proposed $4.1-million in increased taxes would fund more services. But Spratt acknowledged that most of those services might fall to residents outside of Tierra Verde.

Moreover, Spratt said, "I would guess that you are already paying more in taxes than you get back in value of services now." The upscale island is home to some of the county's wealthiest residents but fewer than 100 schoolchildren.

Apart from a recent string of automobile burglaries on Fort De Soto, the area is virtually free of crime, said Sheriff Everett Rice, who opened the meeting. Some residents complained about speeding cars and inquired about speed humps, and Rice replied that his deputies patrol the area and write tickets for speeders.

If the proposed increase goes through later this year, taxes on unincorporated residents would rise from $1.86 to $2.36 for every $1,000 in assessed, taxable property value. About half of the $4.1-million in revenue would go toward improvements in recreation, Spratt said. The rest would fund such projects as sidewalks, landscaping, beautification and neighborhood matching grants.

The alternative, he said, is to forgo both taxes and services.

That's a bargain many residents say they would accept. "I have looked at the county's budget," said Ed Wescott, a former treasurer of the association. "I don't see anything in there for Tierra Verde except a baseball field that we don't need."

The county and Tierra Verde Community Association recently reached an agreement for the field, on county-owned land west of the Bayway. Tierra Verde residents will pay for clearing the area, plus $250,000 a year.

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