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Monday, Jun 18, 2018
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Pasco commissioners approve $1.2 billion budget

NEW PORT RICHEY - Pasco County commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved the county’s $1.2 billion budget - one that doesn’t include $5.9 million of additional gas tax revenue.

Commissioners defeated a plan two weeks ago to hike gas taxes by a nickel a gallon, forcing county officials to make several last-minute changes to the budget.

Most county employees still will get an across-the-board 3 percent pay raise, their first in six years. Firefighters would get a 1.5 percent pay raise.

Commissioners set the combined fire and millage rate at $8.90 per $1,000 of property value, nearly 8 percent higher than the current tax rate. County Administrator Michele Baker said the higher tax rate would cost the owner of a $100,000 home with homestead exemption an additional $33 a year.

For some homeowners, like 88-year-old Joseph Attard, the increase was too much to ask. “It’s unconscionable and repressive,” Attard said at Tuesday night’s public hearing on the budget. “You are making it very, very hard for people with fixed incomes to stay in their homes.’’

Theta Wilkinson said she moved to Pasco County 17 years ago because of the lower taxes and cost of living. “Everything keeps going up, except my Social Security,” she said. “I barely make $1,000 a month. I don’t know what I’m going to do. I can’t move anywhere else, but I can’t afford any more property taxes, either.”

The budget creates new positions, including a public information officer and sports marketing director. But commissioners cut funding for four new code enforcement officers. Since the start of the recession, the number of code enforcement officers has dropped from 24 to 14.

One speaker, Gene Snyder, praised commissioners for what he called a “fiscally conservative budget.” He lamented the decision two weeks ago not to raise the gas tax, which means the county will have less money for road improvements and construction.

Money collected from the existing 7 cent local gas tax will be directed entirely for maintenance and operations.

Twelve road projects, including the Zephyrhills Bypass extension and Wesley Chapel Boulevard widening, will be delayed for several years. The proposed Ridge Road Extension between the Suncoast Parkway and U.S. 41 was on the chopping block, but commissioners moved it back into the 15-year capital improvement plan.

The proposed Chancey Parkway between Wiregrass and Morris Bridge Road was eliminated from the county’s 15-year plan. An extension of Collier Parkway in Land O’Lakes also was cut.

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