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    City's property values jump 12.3 percent

    By ERIC STIRGUS

    © St. Petersburg Times, published May 15, 2001


    LARGO -- The city's efforts to annex large businesses east of U.S. 19 have produced another major property value increase.

    Largo property values grew by 12.3 percent last year, according to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office. The increase in Largo between 1998 and 1999 was 9.5 percent.

    "It's good to hear," said City Manager Steven Stanton, who expected a double-digit percentage increase. "It's consistent with what I thought it would be."

    Stanton said the city had success attracting businesses and homeowners through infrastructure improvement projects like the widening of West Bay Drive and the expansion of reclaimed water service.

    "It creates an environment where people want to be associated with you," he said.

    The centerpiece of the annexation efforts was the 1.1-million-square-foot ICOT Center, valued at an estimated $70-million by county tax appraisers. Including the center, Largo annexed $104-million worth of property last year.

    Stanton spoke cautiously when asked whether increased revenue to the city from the higher property values could prevent a much-discussed property tax increase in 2003.

    "It will help," Stanton said.

    But he quickly added that he could not make a definitive statement because of the volatile nature of the national economy.

    "You have to wonder, is the recession going to come or not?" said Stanton.

    The figures from the county were good news for government officials across Pinellas County and for homeowners who are considering selling their property.

    "I think there are a lot of people in Pinellas County that maybe felt over the years their property was undervalued," said Mike Mayo, director of government affairs for the Greater Clearwater Association of Realtors. "The increases we have seen over the years are bringing them up to par."

    Higher property values will mean increased property tax bills, which may not sit well with some homeowners. The increased revenue, however, will help Pinellas municipalities pay for services.

    Property values rose in every municipality in Pinellas County last year.

    The largest increases were in North Redington Beach, Indian Shores and Indian Rocks Beach. Some of the smallest jumps occurred in South Pasadena, Pinellas Park and Dunedin.

    County officials think the increase was caused by the construction of homes throughout Pinellas. The rate of home building last year was the heaviest some county property appraisers have seen in about a decade.

    "The (tax) rolls this year are a result of a strong real estate market," said Pam Dubov, chief deputy property appraiser.

    Local real estate experts were not surprised by the numbers, pointing out the sparse vacant land in Pinellas.

    "It's built out, and it's a very desirable area," said Mayo.

    Mayo said he is worried that some home seekers who are below the middle-income level cannot afford a home. He plans on flying to Washington, D.C., today to join other Realtors in a meeting with Florida's congressional delegation to address the problem. The group is hoping for federal legislation that would raise the Federal Housing Administration loan limit and additional money to build affordable rental housing.

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