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Budget cuts property tax rate

But rising property assessments on homes in Hillsborough might mean many still will pay more in taxes.

By LARRY DOUGHERTY

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 8, 2000


TAMPA -- Bolstered by another booming year of real estate growth, Hillsborough County unveiled a new budget Wednesday that promises a small reduction in the county property tax rate.

The owner of a $100,000 house, for instance, would see a $7.50 drop in the bill if the assessed value is unchanged, said Eric Johnson, the county's budget director.

But rising property assessments, driven by the county's healthy real estate market, mean many homeowners could pay more in property taxes despite the drop in the rate.

Hillsborough County's overall spending plan proposed for the fiscal year starting Oct. 1 totals $2.27-billion.

The proposed budget adds 22 new sheriff's deputies, and 19 bailiffs, jail guards and other sheriff's personnel.

It provides more funds for water projects and the protection of environmental lands. It provides merit raises for the county's 9,200 employees that will average 3.5 percent.

And it shifts $2-million more toward transportation needs, such as rides for the disabled and traffic safety enhancements, that Hillsborough County commissioners have called for as part of a long-range increase in transportation spending.

Because the budget is the second-year portion of a two-year budget commissioners approved last year, it has fewer changes than the typical annual budget, officials said.

"We're in an update mode," Johnson said. "Most numbers, if they have changed, have changed minimally."

To see the spending plan, computer users can log on to http://www.hillsboroughcounty.org/ and click on "County Budget" at the bottom of the page.

Hillsborough commissioners were presented with the budget plan Wednesday morning. County staff members are scheduling budget workshops in which the commissioners will review spending proposals. Public hearings also are planned for June and September.

In their proposed spending plan, county officials point with pride to the property tax rate reduction, the sixth in as many years.

But those lower rates are going to be applied to property assessments that in many cases have increased, said Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner. A tax bill is determined by multiplying the tax rate with a property's taxable assessed value.

While he doesn't have final figures yet, Turner estimates that rising real estate prices and the addition of 6,500 new homes are going to increase Hillsborough total tax roll roughly $2.5-billion over last year's $34-billion figure. That increase is roughly 7 percent.

Turner said Wednesday he once again will urge commissioners to hedge their spending plans against a possible downturn in the real estate market.

"It's not if we have a downturn, it's almost when" Turner said. "While I'm not trying to wear commissioners' shoes, I hate to see us set ourselves up as a community for spending patterns . . . and when there is a downturn, we will be subject to tremendous increases in millage."

Turner said he will once again ask commissioners to consider a deeper tax rate cut than the current plan proposes.

-- Larry Dougherty can be reached at (813) 226-3337 or dougherty@sptimes.com

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