Tampa Bay-area government officials know their constituents are grappling with inflation and the resulting sticker shock. They can see the impact on the cost of gas, groceries and just about everything else, and they are aware that many residents have had to cut back or go without. But empathy, apparently, goes no further. Most local officials seem reluctant to cut property tax rates despite the dramatic increase in tax revenue thanks to skyrocketing property values.
Tampa Bay area governments say there is too much public need to cut property tax rates, even if it would put money back in the pockets of homeowners when they really need it. They point to new roads, more affordable housing, and improved police and fire protection as areas that need more financial support, and we don’t disagree. But when you consider the magnitude of the tax windfall to come, it’s hard not to think that civil servants are a bit of a pig.
Assessed property values sent to the state earlier this month show double-digit percentage increases in Hillsborough, Pinellas and Pasco counties. Remember that even though the tax rate – the mileage – remains the same, your tax bill will increase if the assessed value of your property increases. And that bill is what matters to your wallet. Hillsborough alone is expected to bring in an additional $153 million in property tax revenue, which would be available for spending beginning in October. Pasco is expected to generate $87.6 million in new money.
“I would love to be able to roll back the mileage, especially in these tough times,” Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told the Tampa Bay Times. But the city, she says, badly needs new investment in transportation and affordable housing, among other areas. Clearwater officials want to add about 62 employees to improve public services. Pasco commissioners are considering dozens of spending proposals, ranging from public safety to renovating bus stops to serve people with disabilities. All are worthwhile projects. But would it really be so disastrous to delay or cut a few so the people paying the bills could keep some of their money? Governments could adjust their rates so they still get more money than last year, but taxpayers would be less hard hit.
Consider the attitude in Pinellas, where tax relief is more of a priority. Pinellas County Administrator Barry Burton is expected to propose a partial tax rate reduction. St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch is also considering lowering the tax rate in his city. In either case, the impact on taxpayers will vary depending on the increase in value of their individual properties.
Many homeowners, of course, are protected from dramatic annual tax increases by the Save Our Homes cap, which limits annual increases in property value to a maximum of 3%. Once a property is sold or transferred, however, the assessment is reset to full market value.
In the coming weeks, Tampa Bay governments will hold public hearings on their proposed budgets for the next fiscal year, which will be set in the fall. Some officials seem uncomfortable with the idea of cutting tax rates when the coffers are full, as it might force them to raise them later. But isn’t making such decisions their job?
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We urge residents to attend the hearings, if only to remind elected officials that much of the property tax money they seek to spend comes from their beleaguered wallets.
Ask them a simple question: If now is not a good time to provide property tax relief, when will it be?
Editorials are the corporate voice of the Tampa Bay Times. Members of the Editorial Board are Editorial Editor Graham Brink, Sherri Day, Sebastian Dortch, John Hill, Jim Verhulst and Chairman and CEO Conan Gallaty. Follow @TBTimes_Opinion on Twitter for more opinionated news.