Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

A higher homestead exemption? Good for homeowners, bad for counties

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief speaks out against a legislative bill that would increase Florida's homestead exemption. [Steve Bousquet | Times]

Broward County Mayor Barbara Sharief speaks out against a legislative bill that would increase Florida's homestead exemption. [Steve Bousquet | Times]

TALLAHASSEE — For Florida home­owners, it sounds almost too good to be true: another break on property taxes in the form of a bigger homestead exemption.

For legislators, it's an easy way to seek favor with voters in an election year because the tax break requires their approval in 2018.

But for counties and cities, it's a disaster in the making that they warn would cut property taxes for some but force higher taxes on businesses and snowbirds, or force cuts in basic services such as police and fire protection.

In a year when local officials say the Legislature is trying to override home rule as never before, counties are mobilizing to defeat legislation to increase the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000 of the first $100,000 of a home's taxable value.

The change would, in effect, tax a $100,000 home as if it were worth $25,000, or a $200,000 home as if it were worth $125,000. That translates to an average savings of $317 in Pinellas County and $310 in Hillsborough County.

But the estimated losses to local governments are much more significant.

Hillsborough would lose about $45 million and Tampa about $4.7 million. About $10.5 million would be stripped from Pasco County, $27 million from Pinellas County and $76 million from Miami-Dade County.

"Businesses would have to pay that burden, or we would have to raise the millage rate," Pinellas Commissioner Ken Welch said. "It is not a tax cut. It is definitely a shift in the tax burden."

Broward Mayor Barbara Sharief said her county would lose $40 million a year — the equivalent of what it costs to run the county parks department for a year.

"Making up that revenue would cause us to cut services and shift the burden to other taxpayers," Sharief said. "This is not a tax cut. This is a tax shift."

Pasco Sheriff Chris Nocco said the revenue loss threatens public safety.

"There's a lot of unintended consequences," Nocco told the Times/Herald, "because if there is less revenue, they would end up cutting public safety."

Counties say a $75,000 homestead exemption would exacerbate a tax unfairness problem caused by Save Our Homes, a provision in the Constitution that caps increases in the assessed value of homesteaded property to 3 percent a year.

As a result, state economists have found that the property tax burden has increasingly shifted from owner-occupied homes to businesses and to non-homestead properties, such as vacation homes and apartment complexes, especially in coastal areas.

Dozens of opponents of the higher homestead exemption filled a House Ways & Means Committee hearing this week, but it did little good as the Republican-dominated panel passed the bill, 13-6.

"It's about putting money back in taxpayers' pockets," said the chairman, Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton.

"Let's let the voters decide," said Rep. Dane Eagle, R-Cape Coral.

One of the few Republicans to criticize the idea is a freshman House member, Rep. Don Hahnfeldt, from the Villages, a mecca of middle-class retirees.

Hahnfeldt said the higher exemption would be "devastating" to local communities, and many Villages homeowners would see little benefit because their home values are far above average.

Property taxes have been steadily rising across Florida as home values rebounded after the Great Recession.

The average owner of a single-family home in Miami-Dade paid $4,129 last year, more than in most large counties across the country, but about one-fourth of the $16,000 average in New York's Westchester County, one of the nation's wealthiest enclaves.

The Florida homestead exemption bills (HB 7105 and SB 1774) still must win support from three-fifths of the members of the House and Senate to reach the ballot, or 72 House members and 24 senators.

If only three Republican senators join forces with the 14 Democrats, the idea would die on the Senate floor.

The Senate version is sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, and faces tough committee votes where its fate appears shakier.

The Florida Association of Counties will focus its lobbying on senators, including the Senate's biggest hurdle for the proposal, the Senate Appropriations Committee, chaired by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater.

Latvala declined to state his position on the issue.

But he was honored at the county group's convention last June for his support of local home rule authority.

"When I get the budget done, we'll try to find time to think about that," Latvala said.

The proposed hike in the homestead exemption would not include property taxes for schools, which the Legislature needs to balance the state budget every year.

Statewide, the projected one-year loss of tax revenue to counties, cities and special taxing districts is $750 million.

But that doesn't tell the complete story.

The higher exemption would protect the state's 29 poorest counties from losing any more property tax revenue.

That means a major subsidy would be paid to them by the other 38 counties, and that was enough to draw a "no" vote from Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach.

"This is not responsible to my constituents," Jenne said.

Times/Herald staff writer Mary Ellen Klas contributed to this report. Contact Steve Bousquet at bousquet@tampabay.com. Follow @stevebousquet.

HISTORY OF THE HOMESTEAD

Florida's homestead exemption began in 1934, when residents feared losing their homes during the Depression for failure to pay taxes. The original exemption was $5,000. Voters increased it to $25,000 in 1980 and again in 2008 to $50,000. The first $25,000 of a home's value is exempt from property taxes. The next $25,000, from $25,000 to $50,000, is taxable, what's known as the "doughnut hole." Source: Times/Herald research

History of the homestead

Florida's homestead exemption began in 1934, when residents feared losing their homes during the Depression for failure to pay taxes. The original exemption was $5,000. Voters increased it to $25,000 in 1980 and again in 2008 to $50,000. The first $25,000 of a home's value is exempt from property taxes. The next $25,000, from $25,000 to $50,000, is taxable, what's known as the "doughnut hole." Source: Times/Herald research

A higher homestead exemption? Good for homeowners, bad for counties 04/06/17 [Last modified: Sunday, April 9, 2017 3:57pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. What you need to know for Thursday, Oct. 19

    News

    Catching you up on overnight happenings, and what you need to know today

    White nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to speak at the University of Florida tonight and the school is on high alert for tensions. [Associated Press]
  2. Bowen: Park land deal raises Penny for Pasco questions

    Environment

    The Penny for Pasco is unambiguous.

    At least it is supposed to be.

    There was no equivocating in 2004 when Penny for Pasco supporters detailed how the sales tax proceeds would be spent: schools, transportation, public safety and environmental lands. No money for parks. No money for recreation.

    Pasco County is considering a loan from its Environmental Lands Acquisition and Mangement Program to buy land for a park in the Villages of Pasadena Hills in east-central Pasco. Shown here is the Jumping Gully Preserve in Spring Hil, acquired by ELAMP in 2009 and 2011.
[Douglas R. Clifford, Times]
  3. Another Tampa Bay agency loses tax credits worth millions in dispute over application error

    News

    LARGO — Another Tampa Bay housing agency has lost out on a multi-million dollar tax credit award because of problems with its application.

    A duplex in Rainbow Village, a public housing complex in Largo. The Pinellas County Housing Authority is planning to build new affordable-housing in the complex but was recently disqualified from a state tax credit award because of an issue with its application.
  4. Live blog: Many unknowns as Richard Spencer speaks in Gainesville today

    College

    GAINESVILLE — A small army of law enforcement officers, many of them from cities and counties around the state, have converged on the University of Florida in preparation for today's speaking appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

    Florida Highway Patrol cruisers jammed the parking lot Wednesday at the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center in Gainesville, part of a big show of force by law enforcement ahead of Thursday's appearance by white nationalist Richard Spencer. [KATHRYN VARN | Times]
  5. As Clearwater Marine Aquarium expands, it asks the city for help

    Growth

    CLEARWATER — When Clearwater Marine Aquarium CEO David Yates saw an architect's initial design for the facility's massive expansion project, he told them to start all over.

    Clearwater Marine Aquarium Veterinarian Shelly Marquardt (left), Brian Eversole, Senior Sea Turtle and Aquatic Biologist (middle) and Devon Francke, Supervisor of Sea Turtle Rehab, are about to give a rescued juvenile green sea turtle, suffering from a lot of the Fibropapillomatosis tumors, fluids at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium Wednesday afternoon. Eventually when the turtle is healthy enough the tumors will be removed with a laser and after it is rehabilitated it will be released back into the wild.  -  The Clearwater Marine Aquarium is launching a $66 million renovation to expand its facilities to take in injured animals and space to host visitors. The aquarium is asking the city for a $5 million grant Thursday to help in the project. American attitudes toward captive animals are changing. Sea World is slipping after scrutiny on the ethics of captive marine life. But CEO David Yates says CMA is different, continuing its mission of rehab and release, it's goal is to promote education, not exploitation. JIM DAMASKE   |   Times