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Property tax cuts worry officials

Commissioners are told legislative proposals add up to sizable losses.

By BILL VARIAN
Published March 15, 2007


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TAMPA - A state House proposal to roll back local property tax rates to 2001 levels would cost Hillsborough County about $190-million next year, budget officials told commissioners Wednesday.

Add to that Gov. Charlie Christ's proposed doubling of the homestead exemption - the property tax break that already exists for people who live in the homes they own - and the county estimates it would lose another $61.7-million.

And in the unlikely scenario that all the governor's plan passes on top of the House rollback, Hillsborough County is looking at a more than $270-million loss.

Commissioners heard that gloomy scenario at a workshop about issues they may confront in passing a county budget in September. Budget officials and commissioners acknowledged the ultimate hit likely won't be anywhere near that.

Still, they are bracing for hard choices.

"Something is going to happen and it's going to be enormous," said Commissioner Ken Hagan.

State budget forecasters looking at economic trends already project a marked slowdown in property tax growth next year of between 8 and 9 percent in Hillsborough County. That contrasts to a 20-plus percent increase last year.

At the 8 to 9 percent projected rate, Hillsborough County would expect to collect $820.7-million in the property taxes that pay for general government operations, if tax rates stay the same. But the county's estimated losses due to state tax reforms would be subtracted from that amount.

Hillsborough Commission Chairman Jim Norman noted that commissioners have already agreed to cap their annual spending increases. He said legislators are under pressure to provide property owners with meaningful tax relief and that commissioners should try to be helpful in that effort rather than voice blanket opposition as some other local governments have.

Commissioners ultimately voted 6-0 to encourage the Legislature to adopt a cap in spending similar to the one they have already adopted. Commissioner Rose Ferlita left the meeting before the vote.

[Last modified March 15, 2007, 06:26:08]


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