ELAPP can continue without tax hike
June 19, 2009
Hillsborough County commissioners breathed a sigh of relief Thursday after learning they can continue the county's popular conservation land-buying program next year without raising property taxes.
The commissioners were in a quandary last week when they learned that property tax millage would automatically increase if the county borrowed money in the fall for the Environmental Lands Acquisition and Protection Program.
Voters in November overwhelmingly supported continuing the conservation purchase program with up to $200 million in bond issues. The bonds are paid off with a property tax of 0.604 mills, or about $9 a year on a $200,000 house with a $50,000 homestead exemption.
But in the same election, a slight majority in Hillsborough approved Amendment 1, which lowered property taxes.
"I guess I wanted the best of both worlds for our citizens," said Commissioner Rose Ferlita.
Mike Merrill, debt management director, solved the dilemma, saying the county could borrow up to $70 million for land acquisition in the fall without increasing property taxes. Merrill said proceeds from the $70 million could be used to pay debt service until 2011 when another conservation program bond issue is paid off.
In other words, the debt payments on the new bonds would replace the payments on the old bonds without the millage having to increase.
Merrill said the only drawback is that Hillsborough will have to use some of the $70 million to make the payments on the new bond issue until the old one is paid off. But that loss would be made up by the county's ability to buy land at lower prices because of falling property values.
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