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County taxes target of meeting tonight
Local lawmakers will hold town hall meetings to discuss changing the property tax system before a June 12 special session.
By DAVID DECAMP
Published June 6, 2007
Tasked with defending Pasco County's property taxes from cut-happy lawmakers, Pasco County budget director Mike Nurrenbrock said he'll wear something that allows him to have a target on his back.
He was half-joking.
He doesn't need to wear anything special to have a target on his back at public meetings tonight and Thursday about cutting property taxes.
Lawmakers called the town hall meetings in preparation for a special legislative session beginning June 12.
The first meeting is 6 p.m. today at the historic county courthouse in Dade City, hosted by state Sen. Victor Crist, R-Tampa, and state Rep. Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel.
A meeting of Pasco's full legislative delegation will be 6 p.m. Thursday at the auditorium of Pasco-Hernando Community College in New Port Richey.
Leaders in the House and Senate have made it clear forcing counties and cities to cut property taxes is their goal.
"At some point, we've got to set property taxes based on what people can afford - not on what government thinks it needs," said Weatherford, a member of the Legislature's joint committee on property taxes.
However, Nurrenbrock said he'll explain why the county's increased bounty of property taxes is not a bad thing. Pasco received $180-million this year, up 38 percent over the last decade when adjusted for inflation. Total spending has gone up 76 percent, to a record $1.1-billion this year.
However, the county has cut its property tax rates so that many homeowners are paying less than they did six years ago.
The big number tied to the total budget obscures the fact that less than one-fifth of spending is with property taxes, Nurrenbrock said. The county has little control over the other money to pay for services like libraries and parks.
Weatherford highlighted the budget increases to defend tax cuts. Pressed by a reporter, he acknowledged not all of the spending boon is from property taxes.
"The way you look at it is, Pasco County, in comparison to the rest of the state, has been very prudent. Not perfect, but very prudent," Weatherford said.
Nurrenbrock said county officials have struggled with the effects of possible property tax cuts because they do not know specifically how much could be cut. Leaders in the Legislature have not released details, but county officials say cuts would hurt services.
Instead, the county began a near-total hiring freeze late last month, and department heads are making plans in case 10 percent cuts are needed. Proposed budgets for departments are expected to be based on no increase in money.