Voters say yes to property tax breaks

Jan 30, 2008

The Florida Times-Union-January 30, 2008

Voters say yes to property tax breaks

By Mary Kelli Palka,
The Times-Union

Florida voters decided Tuesday that property owners should get a tax break. So now, local government and school officials are starting to figure out how to deal with the loss of anticipated revenue.

With 93 percent of the precincts counted Tuesday night, about 64 percent of voters had approved a property tax amendment, according to The Associated Press. The measure included the doubling of the homestead exemption and a 10 percent assessment cap on non-homesteaded property.

The amendment needed at least a 60 percent approval, and it won by large margins in parts of South Florida. Voters in Northeast Florida were more split, especially after listening to amendment opponents that included firefighters, police officers and teachers.

The public service workers said they feared that the loss of anticipated revenue would cause a loss of public safety services, as well as resources in classrooms.

Gov. Charlie Crist campaigned for the cuts, saying governments needed to live within their means.

With a majority of precincts counted late Tuesday, Duval County voters appeared to vote against the amendment. Although a majority of voters in Baker, Clay and St. Johns supported the amendment, only Nassau County reached the 60 percent threshold.

Jacksonville officials have estimated a $60 million loss of anticipated revenue for next year because of the amendment.

"It’s not going to be a pretty picture," said Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton.

Peyton had campaigned against the amendment. Property taxes make up about half of the city’s general fund revenue to pay for such things as libraries, parks and public safety.

"It will do irreparable damage," Peyton said.

In Hastings, Mayor Tom Ward said there will be a cut, but he didn’t think residents would feel the impact.

The measure doubles the $25,000 homestead exemption for houses valued at more than $50,000, except for school taxes, and allows homeowners to transfer up to $500,000 of their Save Our Homes benefits if they move within the state.

It also allows a $25,000 exemption for businesses’ tangible personal property and caps annual increases on non-homesteaded properties at 10 percent, except for school taxes.

This is the second year municipalities will have to deal with property tax revenue reductions. Last year, the Legislature mandated cuts.

The Duval County school system stands to lose about $74 million over five years.

And while Jacksonville made up some of the property tax loss with new fees for this year’s budget, the schools can’t collect fees.

School Board member Vicki Drake said she was at her home Tuesday night trying to figure out what the board could cut.

"All I keep coming up with is what do kids need," Drake said.

Plus, the state has told the Duval school system to cut 2 percent to 4 percent out of this year’s budget by March to deal with a statewide budget crunch.

Though the school system gave examples of new cuts as being textbooks, Drake said she’s not willing to do that.

Instead, she said the board may have to consider providing transportation only for students who live at least 2 miles from their schools.

Now, the school system picks up the cost of transportation for students living at least 11/2 miles from their schools., (904) 359-4104


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