Counties brace for a big hit to wallet

Published April 18, 2007

It brought no sigh of relief.

But the Florida Senate's property tax proposal could leave local governments with more money to spend than a House version would.

In Hillsborough County, for example, the Senate calls for a $52.2-million, or 6 percent, cut in property tax revenue next year, rising to $95.8-million a year later. The House bill calls for $190-million in cuts next year.

In either case, the message received in Hillsborough, Pasco and Pinellas counties is the same: plan for leaner times. Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean said she expects a final package to require cuts deeper than the Senate bill currently does.

Pinellas County Administrator Steve Spratt was no fan of either proposal.

Spratt is troubled that lawmakers would block local tax revenue from growing faster than area income and population. Population growth in Pinellas is largely static, Spratt said, although demand for services - from indigent health care to jail space - continues to grow.

The Senate estimates Pinellas would lose $11.8-million, or 2.1 percent, in 2008, rising to $41.1-million in 2009.

"It's simplification," Spratt said of the Senate plan. "You're not keeping pace with some really real, obvious demands."

Pasco County, which would take a 4.4 percent cut and lose $8.7-million next year and $20-million in 2009, has begun budgeting by expecting no money for new staff members or programs, said budget director Mike Nurrenbrock.

"I don't know how it can be solved in 60 days by lawmakers," Pasco Commission Chairwoman Ann Hildebrand said. "It's just a huge, huge issue."

Times staff writers Will Van Sant and Bill Varian contributed to this report. David DeCamp can be reached at (727) 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com.