ST. PETERSBURG — Few people spoke Thursday night at a public hearing on the proposed Pinellas County budget, which calls for a 5.2 percent increase in the tax rate.
The meeting was the first of two public hearings on the final draft of the 2014 county budget, which goes into effect Oct. 1. The $1.76 billion proposal includes property tax increases as well as tax hikes for water, sewer, and emergency medical services.
Some of those issues, particularly on emergency medical services, sparked lengthy and sometimes contentious discussion in the past year, but there appeared to be a consensus on most issues Thursday as commissioners gave preliminary approval to the budget.
“We’ve spent an entire year working toward this night,” said Commissioner Susan Latvala. “It looks like we’re just sitting up here approving what’s before us, but that is not the case at all.”
County Administrator Bob LaSala said the increases would pay for raises for county employees who haven’t had them in years, fund 18 new full-time positions and compensate for operating costs that have increased because of inflation. LaSala’s said assessed property values in the county have increased by 3.4 percent over the last year.
The budget calls for increasing the tax rate from 5.01 per $1,000 of assessed property value to $5.27. For the owner of a home with an assessed value of $150,000 after exemptions, that would mean an annual tax increase of $39.
A handful of residents spoke during a public comment session; most were concerned with the budget’s impact on people with fixed or stagnant incomes.
“People in the private sector are not getting raises they need,” said resident Shelby Harvey. “The economy has not rebounded enough to deal with this kind of issue.”
The second public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 17 at 6 p.m.
The county is also proposing a new stormwater assessment for unincorporated areas, which it will discuss Tuesday during a 6 p.m. hearing.
More information on the proposed budget is available at www.pinellascounty.org/budget.