Hillsborough OKs extra homestead for low-income seniors
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09/06/07 Seán Kinane
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The Hillsborough Board of County Commissioners approved a plan today that will give low-income senior citizens an additional $15,000 homestead exemption.

Commission Brian Blair’s plan originally called for an additional $25,000 exemption. That would have cost the county $791,000 per year for the 5,000-6,000 low-income elderly homeowners who would benefit. But Blair suggested the less costly option using recurring dollars from a state-mandated millage reduction fund.

“I don’t think that they should pay a dime in property taxes because they’re struggling now to make ends meet, and I’ve seen this,” Blair said.

The board voted 4-2 in favor of Blair’s motion. The exemption will begin in fiscal year 2009.

Commissioner Kevin White voted against the meansure. He was concerned that it would be hasty to act before knowing whether the state’s super homestead exemption would pass in a January referendum.

Blair said that even if it passes, it would have little affect on the $15,000 exemption because most seniors would choose the option of keeping their Save Our Homes exemption rather than the super homestead exemption.

Rose Ferlita was the other Commissioner who voted against Blair’s measure.

“Actually, no, I can’t support it, given the fact that where we’re helping them, we’re also hindering them. … This was something I struggled with, because you never want to say no to senior citizens. But I did some input from senior citizens, that said 'given that we don’t know what’s coming in January, we don’t support this, Ms. Ferlita.' So that gave me a level of comfort that tells me although I applaud you for bringing this forward, Mr. Blair, I will not be supporting it at this time given the uncertainty of what we know or don’t know of what’s coming in January.”

Ferlita explained why the plan might hinder seniors.

“We’re going to have to take away senior citizens services and some of our projects and some of our services. I think that what they will save in this additional exemption would probably not be enough for them to still depend on the senior citizens services we offer and we try to preserve as much as we’re trying to this time.”

According to Eric Johnson, director of the county’s Management and Budget Department, the exemption for low-income seniors might be sufficiently covered by the $500,000 currently in the millage reduction reserves.

In other developments from this morning’s county commission meeting:

Tempers flared during the public comment period of the meeting. Charles Thornton blamed the county for not requiring the Shops at Lithia to fix flooding caused by the shopping center before they received certificates of occupancy (CO). Thornton said it caused him to lose his home.

“And the reason for that, according to your senior site inspector was because Publix had too much influence in this county to withhold the CO. Now a person might wonder how the developers and our inspectors get away with that. Well, in the county attorney’s written report to you of May 16th, 2007, she wrote what she told to us verbally, and that it is her opinion that the county is not accountable.”

Thornton referred to County Attorney Renee Lee.

“Maybe this county would feel like it was more accountable if one of us were a commissioner who lived on a private lake. Maybe then it would have felt something should have been done. Ms. Lee you have a duty to limit this county’s losses. Why don’t you intervene in the money being spent on Commissioner Blair’s lake and tell them simply the county is not accountable.”

“Sir, I asked please, no personal attacks,” said Commission Chair Jim Norman, intervening to stop Thornton’s criticism of Blair.

Thornton was referring to the use of $600,000 for a chain of lakes including the one Blair lives on. Thornton refrained from mentioning Blair by name but went on to mention an incident in 2001 when Commissioner Blair was legally drunk and tripped in a restaurant.

“This commissioner supports what the county did for the county to spend money for what it did to his home. But he doesn’t support it for what the county did to our home. All this commissioner got was a dirty lake. We had our homes taken away from us because of what this county did. This commissioner doesn’t seem to see the issues any better than he can see a tray of dirty dishes. He’s tripping over the issues just like he did that tray of dishes, and maybe the county attorney should maybe check his blood alcohol level.”

Also in this morning’s meeting, the Hillsborough County Commission unanimously agreed to accept a contribution of $4.5-million in supplemental funding from the Tampa Bay History Center toward the design and construction of the History Center.

The board also voted five to one to select Walbridge Aldinger Co. to construct the History Center at a maximum cost of $19.5-million. Of that, the county will pay $15.4-million. Brian Blair was the lone vote against Walbridge Aldinger. The proposal from Mathews Construction Company was rejected.

The next Hillsborough County Commission meeting is Sept. 19.

Following are links to St. Petersburg Times stories:

Blair settles with Carrabba’s over trip

Report on funding for Blair’s lake

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