tampabay.com

$3.4-billion budget, tax rates rollback approved for county

But rising property values will mean higher tax bills for most Hillsborough residents.

By BILL VARIAN
Published September 23, 2005


TAMPA - Hillsborough County commissioners unanimously approved a $3.4-billion spending plan for next year on Thursday, rolling back property tax rates slightly while sharply increasing spending for such things as roads and libraries.

Spending would increase to $3.5-billion in 2007, under the two-year plan commissioners approved.

However, much of the focus for citizens packing the commission chambers centered on a mere $19,500 sought by Planned Parenthood for a teen sex-ed theater program. Commissioners ultimately rejected that spending request on a 5-2 vote, with commissioners Kathy Castor and Tom Scott voting for it.

The overall spending plan will roll back the property tax rate by at least one-tenth of a mill, representing a theoretical 10-cent reduction for every $1,000 of a person's property value. However, because of sharply rising property values that will enable the county to spend $400-million more than last year, most people will actually see their tax bills from the county rise.

"We rolled back the millage and met the needs of the community," said Commission Chairman Jim Norman.

"I think taxpayers should feel that the board and county have worked to address what we consider major improvements for the benefit of all members of the community," said County Administrator Pat Bean.

Commissioners agreed to dedicate another $15-million for roadway work, largely intersection improvements, in addition to the $25-million previously allocated.

The budget also includes money for building, renovating or expanding eight libraries; for opening and staffing new fire stations; and for opening and upgrading several parks, largely in suburban areas.

Thursday's meeting was the final public hearing on the budget. About 40 people showed up to make last-ditch appeals on behalf of social service agencies and civic groups. Because property values have increased by 16.5 percent in Hillsborough County, swelling county coffers, commissioners were able allow most of the speakers to leave happy.

Commissioners had already approved a nearly $300,000 study of how to clean up canals feeding Tampa Bay. At residents' request, they agreed to set aside another $500,000 Thursday to begin carrying out recommendations from the study, provided they address environmental problems that are on county property or caused by the county.

Commissioners also set aside $450,000 for an Apollo Beach Park expansion, $1.5-million to purchase park land in Seffner, $2.8-million for a Citrus Park community center and $500,000 for Lowry Park Zoo.