Pinellas County approves rollback of millage rates

Pinellas County Commissioner Kathleen Peters tries unsuccessfully to get fellow commissioners to change their minds and approve a full rollback of the general fund millage rate during the second and final public hearing Sept. 21.

LARGO — The decision wasn’t unanimous, but it was final. Pinellas County commissioners voted 5-2 to approve a partial rollback of the general fund millage rate and fiscal year 2021-22 budget during a second and final public hearing Sept. 21.

Commission Chair Dave Eggers and Commissioner Kathleen Peters voted no.

The approved millage rate of 5.1302 mills was a 2.56% increase from the rolled-back rate of 5.0023; however, a portion of the increase will go to alleviate the growing deficit in the transportation trust fund, which pays for maintenance of roads, sidewalks and other infrastructure.

Before the vote, Peters lobbied for a full rollback of the millage rate instead of only a partial amount. She said the county could afford to go to the rollback rate, which would bring in the same amount of revenue as last year.

She said the commission had done nothing the help homeowners, but instead decided to use part of the money that could have gone to property owners to pay for infrastructure that is used by everybody. She said it wasn’t fair.

“Citizens are continuing to suffer,” she said, adding that the county was raising its water rates, sewer rates and the cost of garbage.

“Give the people a break,” she said.

Peters and Eggers advocated using reserves to shore up the transportation trust fund. They also said money from the federal government’s American Rescue Act could be a source of needed revenue for the trust fund.

Peters made a motion to go to the rollback rate, but it died for lack of a second. Eggers, as chair, cannot make motions or seconds.

Eggers and Peters then voted no on the motion to approve the general fund millage rate and budget as tentatively approved on Sept. 9. They also voted no on the $2.9 billion countywide budget.

The partial rollback was the first millage rate decrease since 2007.

Because the decision was not unanimous, the commission, acting as the taxing authority, had to vote on each budget item separately.

The Health Department Millage, which was a full rollback, of 0.0790 mills was approved 6-1. Peters voted no. The budget was approved 6-1 with Peters dissenting.

The Emergency Medical Service Authority millage rate of 0.9158, a 6.38% increase over the rollback rate, was approved 6-1 as was the budget with Peters voting no on both.

The millage rate for unincorporated Pinellas of 2.0857, which is a 4.55% increase over the rollback, and the budget were approved 6-1 with Peters voting no.

The Pinellas Planning Council millage rate of 0.0150, which was 5.63% over the rollback rate, was approved 6-1 as was the budget. Peters voted no.

Peters also was the only one to vote no on the millage rates and budgets for the Public Library Services District MSTU, Palm Harbor Community Services, Feather Sound Community Services, East Lake Library Services and East Lake Recreation Services.

The millage rates and budgets for each of those special districts were approved as requested by the districts.

Commissioners gave unanimous approval for millage rates and budget for seven of unincorporated 12 fire districts, which had reduced millage rates, including Belleair Bluffs, Dunedin, Gandy, Largo, Safety Harbor, Seminole and South Pasadena.

The vote was 6-1 for millage rates for Clearwater Fire District, High Point Fire District, Pinellas Park Fire District, Tarpon Springs Fire District and Tierra Verde Fire District. All the rates increased. Peters voted no.

The individual fire districts set their own millage rates and compile their own budgets. The ones with decreased millage rates have sufficient money in reserves to pay for their needs.

Suzette Porter is TBN’s Pinellas County editor. She can be reached at sporter@tbnweekly.com.