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County considering new park tax

The commission votes 4-0 to draw up an ordinance for a new property tax, but it would require another vote to take effect.

By CARY DAVIS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 23, 2001


NEW PORT RICHEY -- County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to consider creating a new property tax to help shoulder the cost of expanding Pasco's park system.

Commissioner Pete Altman floated the idea as a way to complement a proposal to create a new impact fee on residential construction to raise $20-million over the next 10 years for parks.

Altman, who was elected to the board in November, suggested a new tax of a quarter mill, or 25 cents per $1,000 of assessed property value, to raise $2-million annually for parks. That, coupled with the proposed impact fee of $892 for each new home, would raise an estimated $40-million for parks over the next decade. That's the minimum the county needs to spend to improve Pasco's network of parks, according to a recently released consultant's report.

If approved, the municipal service taxing unit, or MSTU, would appear as a line item on tax bills that will go out to property owners later this year. Money now earmarked for parks in the general fund would be transferred to the MSTU, meaning the ad valorem millage rate would likely drop.

In years past, property owners paid about three-quarters of a mill for parks. Under Altman's proposal, an MSTU for parks would be about 1 mill.

For the owner of a $75,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption, the new tax would cost an additional $12.50 per year, or about $1 each month.

The new tax would encompass all of unincorporated Pasco, but municipalities could elect to participate in the county's program through interlocal agreements.

Altman acknowledged that his idea for a new tax might be a politically unpopular position, and he said he expects some vocal opposition. But he said the tax is needed to start acquiring land for parks now before property becomes scarce and, therefore, more expensive.

"This county does not have the tax structure in place to make a Boy Scout's effort to put (a parks expansion plan) in place," Altman said.

The 4-0 vote -- Commissioner Pat Mulieri did not attend Tuesday's meeting -- was not an endorsement for a new tax. It only directed county staffers to draw up an ordinance that would create a new MSTU.

The item wasn't on the agenda for Tuesday's meeting -- Altman introduced the idea as old business -- and it came as a shock to fellow commissioners. "That's a heck of an "old business' item, commissioner," board chairman Steve Simon quipped.

The matter must withstand two public hearings and a commission vote before it is enacted. Commissioners must act on the idea by July 1 for the tax to take effect this year.

The creation of a new taxing district requires a 3-2 vote by the board, according to the county attorney's office.

Altman's proposal already appears to have the support of at least one fellow commissioner.

"If there's any type of tax that would be palatable, or not such a Rolaids problem, it would be this," said Commissioner Ann Hildebrand, who told a Times reporter after the meeting that she was prepared to vote for the measure.

Commissioners Simon and Ted Schrader both said they supported exploring Altman's proposal, but they stopped short of endorsing a new tax.

"This would allow us to assess everyone who is using these facilities," Schrader said, adding that it wouldn't be fair to expect new home buyers to foot the entire bill for new parks. "I think we owe it to the citizens of Pasco County to investigate this."

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