Robert Goehrig, Pasco’s budget director, says the current tax rate is not sufficient to meet the department’s needs
Pasco property owners will see a projected 27.5% tax rate increase in the fee they pay for Pasco County fire protection when they receive their preliminary tax notice in August.
While the tax is only a minor portion of the entire tax bill, raising the cost by around 50 cents for every $1,000 of property value, it adds up. For a $350,000 home with homestead tax exemptions, it would add $150 to the tax burden.
It also differs from the county’s stance on other parts of the bill, where the goal is to keep the tax rate consistent. Earlier this week, the matter sparked heated debate among commissioners.
Pasco’s budget director, Robert Goehrig, said county commissioners that the current fire millage is insufficient to maintain the department’s reserve at the desired 16.7%, a level recommended by the Government Finance Officers Association and accepted by the commission some years ago.
He predicted that if there is no tax rate increase, the situation would worsen. Despite the tax rate increase, estimates indicate that the issue will recur in the following years. According to Goehrig, the fire department will have to cut costs.
The new county fire chief, Anthony Perez, who was introduced to them on July 11 and will start in August, has his job cut out for him, according to commissioners.
The fire tax rate increase from 1.8036 mills to 2.3 mills was not generally accepted by commissioners. A mill is a tax of one dollar per $1,000 of appraised taxable property value. Commissioner Seth Weightman expressed concern for citizens who are already dealing with inflation.
“Our residents are feeling it. Our seniors are feeling it,” he remarked.
Goehrig informed commissioners that the tax rate increase will allow the county to pay fire personnel salaries that are 95% of what Hillsborough County pays. It would also cover the automatic raise in pay that firemen receive under their union contract for each year of service.
Pasco intends to build five new fire stations during the next few years. While other funds are used to build fire stations and purchase equipment, new staffing will be required, and the tax rate increase will help with that cost, according to Goehrig. Requests for assistance are also increasing, and “We need more boots on the ground,” he said.
Goehrig informed the commissioners that due to the level of tax rate increase, all five commissioners would need to approve the increase when the final tax rate was up for discussion in September. Weightman stated that he would agree to send out tax notices with the higher amount but would require more information and reasoning before voting to accept the tax rate increase.
Other commissioners strongly supported the tax rate increase. When commission chairperson Jack Mariano inquired about the cost of fire stations, the staff informed him that a fire station that might have been built for $2.5 million some years ago now costs $7.5 million. He stated that the county must give the necessary funding for the program.