Port Richey discusses tax increase

After exploring the idea of increasing its property tax rate by 1.5 mills during early budget talks, the Port Richey City Council approved a 1 mill increase last week. That raises Port Richey’s millage rate from 5.7847 to 6.7847, which is 29.95% higher than the rolled-back rate of 5.2209.

NEW PORT RICHEY — Budget season has reached its end in West Pasco. The area’s two municipalities, New Port Richey and Port Richey, finalized their financials last week for fiscal year 2020-2021, which begins Oct. 1.

New Port Richey approved its operating budget, capital improvements program and millage rate during a special meeting Sept. 22.

The New Port Richey City Council voted to hold its property tax rate at 8.75 mills, which is less than the rolled-back rate of 8.9497 by 2.23%. The rolled-back rate is the rate that will generate the same amount of property tax revenue raised for the current fiscal year.

According to City Manager Debbie Manns, the adopted rate is expected to generate $5,505,630 in ad valorem revenues in the coming year, which is about $355,000 more than the prior year because of an increase in property values.

New Port Richey’s total operating budget was approved at $75,626,900, which is an increase of more than $11 million, or 17.24%, compared with fiscal year 2019-2020.

“The increase is directly related to the funding of capital projects by anticipated USDA loans and bond proceeds received in FY2019-2020,” according to city budget material.

The council approved the $75.6 million budget and millage rate unanimously, though council member Peter Altman expressed his desire to reduce the millage rate in the future, especially when property values are increasing. The city should remain committed to reducing its rate by 0.15 mills each year, as it did last year, he said.

“The reality is we’re still passing on a small increase in taxes to our residents,” Altman said. “We’ll never get down to a low enough millage rate to attract new development and growth in the city unless we really strive to drop that rate down.”

Driving the council’s decision to hold the millage rate at 8.75 is the economic uncertainty caused by the coronavirus pandemic.

“If the economy is turned around by the time we get to that point, I’ll be happy to help you,” Mayor Rob Marlowe said following Altman’s comments. “The pandemic has definitely put a monkey wrench in pretty much everything this year. But under the circumstances, I support the motion that’s been made.”

Meanwhile, the Port Richey City Council held its second and final public budget hearing Sept. 24.

After exploring the idea of increasing its property tax rate by 1.5 mills during early budget talks, the city approved a 1 mill increase last week. That raises Port Richey’s millage rate from 5.7847 to 6.7847, which is 29.95% higher than the rolled-back rate of 5.2209.

The city’s total operating budget was approved at $19,197,811, which would represent a more than $7 million increase from last year’s $12 million budget. Interim Finance Director George Zoettlein said the majority of that difference is because about $6 million invested in state funds was not included in last year’s budget.

Since having to set the tentative millage rate about two months ago, the City Council and staff reasoned that raising the millage rate is necessary to offset past decisions that have left reserve funds below a desirable level. Answering a question from Port Richey Mayor Scott Tremblay at the Sept. 24 hearing, Zoettlein said this budget includes an increase of about $900,000 in the general fund reserves.

Two residents stepped to the podium last week to voice disapproval of this year’s millage rate increase.

The board voted 4-0 to approve both the millage rate and the general budget. Councilwoman Jennie Sorrell was not present.