Fla. County Considers Tax Increase to Pay For EMS

Pinellas County commissioners said Tuesday that they're willing to raise the tax rate by about 7.7 percent and invade savings to pay for emergency medical services in the coming year.

That's less than the 21.7 percent tax rate hike that County Administrator Bob LaSala had recommended for the coming year. But LaSala's proposal would have required unanimous commission approval, something he acknowledged he did not have. The unanimous vote was required because of the magnitude of the proposed hike.

If adopted, the increase would come on top of a 46 percent increase in the property tax rate and a 3.3 percent increase in ambulance fees that were put in place this year to fund the EMS system.

The commission's proposal would take the EMS property tax rate from about 85 cents per $1,000 of assessed, taxable property value to about 92 cents. For a home valued at $150,000 with a $50,000 homestead exemption, the EMS taxes would increase by about $6 a year from $85 to about $92.

"A small price to pay for excellent service," Commissioner John Morroni said.

The increase is not a done deal. It's the amount that will appear on property owners' tax notices. Commissioners can later vote to pass that rate or a lesser one.

Property taxes make up about 40 percent of the current $103.4 million budget. The rest comes from ambulance fees and other sources. LaSala is projecting that the 2012-13 EMS budget will be roughly $107.4 million.

Anne Lindberg can be reached at alindberg@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8450.

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