Heading into the home stretch for the Jan. 14 Republican primary for the late C.W. Bill Young’s House seat, Kathleen Peters is clarifying her platform and trumpeting her achievements.
"What can one mother and grandmother from Pinellas do to stop gridlock and fix Washington?" asked Peters in a mailer we received on Jan. 8. Her answer: "Lower taxes."
"When I was Mayor of South Pasadena, we actually reduced the property taxes we collected," the flier read. It then added, "In fact, my city had the third lowest property tax rate of the 24 cities in Pinellas."
Talking about reducing taxes is a surefire way for a candidate to get voters to pay attention, but the wording seemed curious to us. Can Peters take credit for South Pasadena’s lower tax collections? It’s time for an audit.
A taxing campaign
Peters served as mayor of South Pasadena from 2008 to 2012, when she left before the end of her term to become a state representative. Before that, she was on the South Pasadena Planning and Zoning Board for two years, serving on the Charter Review Committee.
Property taxes are a subject Peters knows well. During her state House run, Democratic opponent Josh Shulman brought up the fact that she had a history of being late paying the taxes on her former St. Pete Beach business, Captain’s Convenience Mart. Records show she paid almost $900 in late fees and penalties between 2000 and 2007. She also was late paying the property taxes on her house in 2007 and 2012, drawing just more than $200 in fees and penalties. Her campaign has noted there was never a lien on the properties, however, and all taxes and fines were paid within the calendar year they were due.
She’s arguing that her city of about 5,000 took in less than before she was mayor, though. A review of South Pasadena’s annual financial reports provided the amount of property taxes the city collected during Peters' tenure. Per year, collections totaled:
It’s interesting to note that these years coincided with the Great Recession and the subsequent recovery, which brought down property values across the state following the housing bust.
Collections in 2009 actually went up slightly from the prior year, from $789,282 to $790,739, but the reason isn’t because property values increased. The City Commission in fiscal year 2009 actually raised South Pasadena’s millage rate (dollars per thousand) to 1.4886 from the previous year’s rate of 1.2749 mills. The financial report says 2009 taxable property values were almost $91 million lower than 2008, down from $639.4 million to $548.6 million.
In 2010, the city’s millage rate went up again, to 1.6985 mills (that was the third-lowest rate in the county, behind North Redington Beach and Belleair Shore). Taxable property values fell another $73 million that fiscal year, to $475.6 million. The millage rate stayed at that level for 2011 and 2012, but taxable property values continued to fall, down to $437.2 million in 2011 and $424.2 million in 2012.
By the end of her term as mayor, Peters had overseen a significant decrease in property tax collections, to the tune of just more than $96,000 per year. The City Commission had actually increased the millage rate during her time, however, and she was mayor during a time taxable property values fell more than $215 million from 2008 levels.
Overall, taxes fell because property values fell, not because of any specific action Peters took.
Peters attempted to tout her record on property taxes, saying in her mailer that as mayor of South Pasadena "we actually reduced the property taxes we collected." As a campaign promise, that implies she had a part in lowering taxes in her city.
When we looked at the city’s annual financial reports, we found she actually presided over an increase in the millage rate, and tax collections fell because of a drastic reduction in taxable property values.
The statement contains an element of truth but ignores critical facts that would give a different impression. We rate it Mostly False.