DADE CITY — On Feb. 17, Jeanie Germain filed the petition cards, residency oath and financial disclosure forms to become a candidate for City Commission.
The same day, she filed another piece of paperwork: She asked the property appraiser's office to void the homestead exemption on a property she had moved out of in August 2009.
For the 2 1/2 years the exemption remained in place, Germain benefitted from a tax break intended for homeowners, not landlords. For the 2011 tax year, the homestead exemption saved her more than $700 in taxes to the city, Pasco County and the school district.
Germain said her townhome was rented to a friend. She had relocated to two different Dade City rental properties in that time and says she didn't realize that the townhome's homestead exemption hadn't been voided.
"This was truly an oversight," she told the Times on Thursday. "Everybody knows that I'm an honest person."
Germain, co-owner of Premium Title Inc. in Dade City, professionally clears real estate for transfer. The work involves combing through property and tax records and ensuring real estate transactions adhere to property law.
Germain was in arrears on her 2009 and 2010 property taxes before obtaining a bank loan to satisfy the debts earlier this year. Records show she is current on her taxes.
"The message to the public should be that I'm a single parent who is struggling like everybody else," said Germain, who is running against Jim Shive for the commission seat being vacated by Curtis Beebe. The election is April 10.
When asked if correcting the homestead exemption had anything to do with her running for office, she said, "absolutely not."
"I wasn't receiving my property tax statements until this year," Germain said. "When it came up for renewal again, I called the girls at the appraiser's office in January to make the correction. So, I'll need to make the adjustment on my 2011 taxes, which come due in June."
Property taxes are considered delinquent if payments are not postmarked by March 31. By waiting to pay until June, Germain accrues a higher bill. The Pasco Tax Collector's website shows she has paid by March 31 just once since 2003.
The two-bedroom, two-bath property on Countryside Way, vacated recently by her friend, is undergoing repairs and Germain said she is seeking a new tenant. Germain bought the property in 1996. It's now listed as having a taxable value of $57,000. Currently, the exemptions knock $25,000 off the property's taxable value for school tax purposes, and more than $34,000 off the property's taxable value for city, county and other agencies' taxes.
Supervisor of Elections Brian Corley said Germain filed a change of address on her voter registration from Countryside to Ware Lane on Aug. 10, 2010, and filed another change from Ware to Church Avenue on Nov. 2, 2011.
Germain's property insurance is provided by Farm Bureau. John Grant, an agent for the Dade City Farm Bureau office, said that at the end of the day an insurer relies on property appraiser's records and the word of their client to write a policy.
"There is verbiage in the contract about misrepresenting the status of any property, including homestead exemption," Grant said.
Germain said she converted the homeowner's policy to a dwelling policy but couldn't remember when.