Pinellas County Commissioner Susan Latvala has been forced to defend her record on taxes as she tries to fend off attacks from challenger Bob Hackworth, who is looking to unseat her in the Nov. 2 election.
At a Dunedin candidates forum on Sept. 14, Latvala contradicted Hackworth directly on her votes for property tax rate increases.
"One of the other inaccuracies, and there were many and I’m not going to address all of them, is that we have raised taxes multiple times and run up the budget. Absolutely not true," Latvala told the crowd. "One tax increase since I’ve been in office. It was a quarter mill tax in the unincorporated area only."
Hackworth has criticized Latvala for voting for tax rate increases when he didn’t as a city commissioner in Dunedin. The county took advantage of rising property values that already were increasing revenue to Pinellas, he said.
We wondered: Who is right?
Latvala referred to a vote for the 2002-03 budget involving the municipal services taxing unit, which is a property tax paid only by residents who live in unincorporated areas of Pinellas. In August 2002, she was part of 6-1 vote to raise the property tax rate, meeting records show. Discussion at the time focused on increasing revenue to pay for recreation and other services.
Latvala misstated the size of the hike. The rate increased a half-mill, not a quarter-mill, from $1.856 per $1,000 of taxable property value to $2.356.
At the same meeting in which the County Commission raised the unincorporated property tax rate, it also raised a different tax, a 5.1 percent increase of the telecommunications services tax.
And a year earlier, meeting records show that Latvala voted with the majority to increase the property tax rate countywide.
It was a small increase, from $6.75 per $1,000 of property to $6.801, but an increase nonetheless.
She did vote to raise taxes more than once during her nearly 10 years on the commission.
"I goofed," Latvala said, when confronted with the records.
So we rate Latvala’s claim as False.