Wednesday, September 20, 2023

A Dichotomy of a Day: Rays get $300 MILLION from Pinellas County As Property Owners Get a Tax Increase

Yesterday was a day of dichotomies in Pinellas County.

Yesterday morning, St. Petersburg, Pinellas County and the Rays held a joint news announcement to announce they had struck a deal struck for a new Rays stadium and redevelopment surrounding it. 

The "deal" is not signed sealed and delivered yet as all those "silly little details" are yet to be agreed upon, publicized and voted on by the county or the city. The devil is always in the details so stay tuned.

What appears to have been agreed to is a stadium design that will cost $1.3 BILLION. 

The Rays will ante up $700 Million, Pinellas County will hand over $300 Million and the city of St. Petersburg will hand over $300 Million for the stadium and another $130 Million for infrastructure improvements around the stadium. 

Pinellas County and St. Petersburg will bond out their portions for 30 years so interest costs must be added on to the share of their cost. 

According to Pinellas County Commission Chair Janet Long and St. Petersburg City Council Chair Brandi Gabbard, this will be the largest development/redevelopment project in Pinellas history. The Rays stated it will be the largest mixed-use project in the history of the Tampa Bay region.

Neither Long, Gabbard nor St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch thanked any of the taxpayers for their contribution.

Then last night at the last Pinellas County FY 2024 budget public hearing, property tax owners got a tax increase. That increase will filter down to those who rent and be an additional financial burden on businesses.

This is a tax increase that hits while we all struggle with the highest inflation in 40 years, high gas and energy costs, skyrocketing food costs and being hammered by insurance costs. 

Commission Janet Long chaired the public hearing wearing her Rays jacket and her Rays cap on the table.  

Commission Chair Janet Long

The FY2024 proposed budget is found here.

For transparency, I was at the public hearing and made a public comment asking the commission to reduce the millage rate.

There was a full room of County residents who attended. Everyone who spoke requested the county reduce the millage rate, except for a few from Palm Harbor who did not want the specific millage rate that funded their library and parks reduced. It had already been decided at the 2pm BOCC meeting yesterday that the parks/library millage rate would not be reduced.

The video of the public hearing starts at about 4:06:14 here.

Starting at about 5:16 in the video, Commissioner Scott speaks his concerns about the trend of a rising budget and rising spending. He voices his concerns about the fiscal well being of county taxpayers. 

Pinellas County commissioners vote to establish the millage rates for 22 separate taxing jurisdictions each year. 

Commissioner Scott proposed a .15 mill reduction to the millage rate in the General Fund which has the most discretionary spending. That small millage rate reduction equates to about $18 million, or about .47% of the County's $8.3B budgt.

With increased property values and no rollback, the General Fund will increase by 12%. The proposed Operating Budget is 27% higher than 2022 and 12% higher than last year.

The net assessed value of all taxable property in Pinellas County has increased by 88% since 2017.  The countywide millage rate has only decreased by 11%.

The population of Pinellas county has barely grown since 2017. However, as the increased property tax dollars flooded into the County, the money has been spent. 

The minimum the County requires to have in Reserves is 15%. As Dave Eggers stated at the meeting, best practices is 16.8%. This year the County is putting 20.8% into Reserves which unnecessarily over funds their Reserves. 

The County budget process must be watched more closely. The County Administrator should be prepared to answer any questions about where cuts could occur - especially a cut of .47%. 

Every County budget has some fat, some slush and some items that are not an immediate need. I told the commission if they cannot figure out how to cut the ballooning budget, they should appoint a citizen task force and we will do it.

Kudos to Commissioners Scott and Eggers for wanting to at least minimally reduce the millage rate. 

The county commissioners need to scrutinize the budget details more, ask more questions early on in the process and set a better expectation to both the public and staff.  

Staff can recommend but the commissioners are the decision makers. Better public engagement earlier in the process is needed. 

We thank Commissioner Scott for stating his goal is to work towards a full millage rollback next year. 

Watch the rest of the meeting. You should be disturbed. By a 5-2 vote (Scott and Eggers voting yes) the commissioners rejected Brian's motion to cut the budget by .47%.  

It was quite the dichotomy to witness yesterday.

The County will hand $300 Million plus to build a new baseball stadium for a wealthy sports team owner but can't find $18M to cut .47% out of a $3.8B budget.

We love the Rays, go to their games and watch them on TV. However, we do not support the use of public funds for new sports stadiums for wealthy sports team owners.

While taxpayers can't get a break, we can guarantee $300M is just the tip of the iceberg the County will be paying to build and maintain a new baseball stadium into perpetuity.

1 comment:

  1. The Rays are 27th out of 30 teams in attendance, with an average of just 17,222 people showing up to watch.(source: Why do the local politicians want to pay for the Ray infrastructure? Didn't they learn anything from the fiasco in Hillsborough County? What is motivating them to spend taxpayers money on private business infrastructure?