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Pasco's tax base still rising at healthy clip

Property values are fueling the tax revenues surge. But a likely cap on revenues may mean budget cuts.

By DAVID DECAMP
Published June 2, 2007


NEW PORT RICHEY - The housing market has slowed, but it's still giving Pasco County's tax base a lot of steam.

Taxable property values jumped $3.5-billion over last year, an increase of almost 14 percent to reach $29.4-billion this year, according to an estimate Friday by Property Appraiser Mike Wells.

That's well behind the gargantuan growth clip of nearly 30 percent last year, but still a healthy rate.

If that's surprising given reports of the demise of the housing market this year, Wells has an answer. The growth represent properties added to the tax rolls up until Jan. 1, on the cusp of the downturn.

About $2-billion of the increase came from new construction. The rest came from rising values of existing property. The value of new construction was $400-million more than last year.

Wells said the increase proves the local market is not so bad. Home construction this year has slowed, he said, but commercial building is humming along.

"I've said all along, despite the newspaper reports, we have a healthy market, " Wells said. "The value, the quality, is not dropping. The number of sales is dropping."

As the county prepares its budget for the next year, the added value would ordinarily be a boon to county spending. The growth would swell Pasco's ability to stuff property tax coffers.

But during a special session starting June 12, state lawmakers plan to decide how to make counties cut property taxes. Local and county governments are likely to face caps on how much revenue they collect.

"When the state sees that, they're going to say, 'Look, local government has more money that they know what to do with, ' " Ann Hildebrand, chairwoman of the Pasco County Commission, said of the latest boon to the tax base.

Wells said it's too early to tell exactly how the growth could affect the county's budget, which relies on property taxes to pay for operating parks, libraries and the Sheriff's Office, among other things.

With a hiring freeze recently imposed, and department heads preparing to cut spending 10 percent, much of county government is feeling a spending pinch already.

Much, that is, but not all. Sheriff Bob White, Clerk of Courts Jed Pittman and Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley each asked for double-digit percent increases in their budget proposals Friday. Wells' budget has a 5 percent increase. Tax Collector Mike Olson, whose budget isn't due until Aug. 1, said he has not come up with a proposal yet.

David DeCamp can be reached at 727 869-6232 or ddecamp@sptimes.com

Pasco's increasing property value

Fast Facts:

Pasco County budget proposals

Here's a look at budget proposals by the clerk of courts, the supervisor of elections and the property appraiser. Because of state procedures, Tax Collector Mike Olson's proposed budget is due Aug. 1.

CLERK OF COURTS

Amount requested: $4.5-million

Increase over last year: $1.2-million

Reasons: Clerk of Courts Jed Pittman wants $417, 000 to improve his facilities, and $180, 000 for DNA evidence storage. He also has $526, 000 in new staff and other expenses. Staffers in his office could not be reached for comment Friday.

SUPERVISOR OF ELECTIONS

Amount requested: $4.1-million

Increase over the last year: $534, 000

Reasons: Legislature mandated that counties switch to optical scan balloting instead of touch screen machines. While he cut overtime and other costs, Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley wants more electronic voter identification machines at precincts. The 64 machines cost $224, 000, and could reduce the number of pollworkers needed. But Corley admits elections could run without them.

PROPERTY APPRAISER

Amount requested: $5.1-million

Increase over the last year: $242, 000

Reasons: Typical personnel costs, such as salary increases. No additional staff is requested, and Property Appraiser Mike Wells said he prides himself on running a low-frills agency.

. FAST FACTS

Pasco cities' increase in property values

Estimated taxable property value changes since 2006:

Dade City 14%

New Port Richey 5%

Port Richey 7%

St. Leo 12.5%

San Antonio 9%

Zephyrhills 13.5%

Year

Amount in billions Increase over previous year
*2007 $29.4 13.6%
2006 $25.9 29.8%
2005 $19.9 19%
2004 $16.3 14.6%
2003 $14 13.2%
2002 $12.3 9%