Opposition grows to property tax amendment

08/20/07 Mitch E. Perry
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Trim notices are going out to Pinellas County homeowners this week, but according to published reports, Tampa Bay area taxpayers aren’t going to be getting much relief.

That comes after the Florida Legislature enacted measures this year that were supposed to dramatically reduce stateproperty taxes.

But according to the St. Petersburg Times, even after property tax reform legislation passed this year, the typical savings for homeowners with a homestead exemption in Pasco County amounts to just $34. In Pinellas County, it’s slightly better, at $81.

However, what the Legislature did this year is only half of what is planned. The second part is a constitutional amendment on the ballot next January that would replace the current $25,000 homestead exemption with an exemption based on the percentage of a home’s value.

State budgets would be affected by up to $7 billion over four years. That comes after the damage to cities and counties by tax reform.

Last week in Orlando, a variety of individuals and groups spoke about coming up with a message about why voters should oppose the amendment.

Rich Templin, with the AFL-CIO, said the purpose of that meeting was to bring people together to provide them with information about wha the amendment really does.

Although advocates from education and social service organizations reportedly were present at the meeting, several other people representing such groups did not return WMNF’s phone calls for comment, perhaps in recognition of the sticky political situation any group could find themselves in for arguing against a property tax cut.

Around the same time that a variety of advocates were meeting in Orlando, the annual Florida Leagues of Cities was holding its annual convention.

Gulfport Mayor Mike Yates said that organization needs to get involved.

Every local government has been affected in some way by the mandatory budget cuts. In Hillsborough, 138 jobs will be cut.

However, complaints by local officials in the wake of the Legislature’s actions have not resulted in widespread complaints about programs being cut – with the noted exception locally of public access channels in Pinellas and Hillsborough losing their funding.

A Tampa Tribune editorial on Monday said “local governments cried long and loud that state-mandated budget cuts would cripple their ability to deliver important services…now off the record, most say the cuts were not so terrible after all.”

The AFL-CIO’s Rich Templin says mosquitoes are a serious problem in Tallahassee. So one of the first things the Leon County government tried to cut was mosquito control.

One of the few elected officials to take umbrage at what the Legislature did with property taxes this year was Eric Hersch, the mayor of Weston, a city in Broward County.

Last Friday, he filed a motion for summary judgment in Leon County, asking the court to schedule a hearing and make a decision before the special session begins next month. Part of his lawsuit claims the January constitutional amendment vote should not be held.

Weston says he believes the Florida League of Cities as a group should oppose the ballot item – but speaking as the rare elected official who has gone to litigation to oppose the property tax reform, he’s not certain if they or any other group want to be seen as being opposed to providing tax relief.

Templin says that the argument over cutting local services vs. reducing property taxes has been a one sided argument so far.

WMNF contacted the Florida League of Counties for a comment on the issue, but we did not receive a call by airtime.

Incidentally, last week the Miami Herald reported that based on newly filed reports, cities and counties spent at least $3 million lobbying the Legislature during the regular session and June special session; their goal: to lessen the blow of property tax cuts and more money for local projects.

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