1. Archive

Tax rebate kicks off this year's two-step

Don't you just love seasonal traditions?

As we all wait breathlessly for a tax rebate that will pay for dinner for four at a really good restaurant, it's time for the local government taxation two-step.

It's an easy dance.

Take one step forward, two steps back and then shrug and point your finger at the nearest other elected official.

Because Florida has nothing to sell except low taxes and sunshine, there is no way to get elected to public office here without promising one or the other.

Because nobody can control the weather (or, in Hernando County, even the stability of the ground) fiscal conservatism is the only workable campaign slogan.

Even Gary Condit could get elected here if he promised to hold the line on taxes, only date flight attendants with hair colors that actually appear in nature, and to lie to the police only when he didn't want to be embarrassed.

But, lets face it, somebody has to pay the bills, even if Pasco is hiring inexperienced teachers because they work cheaper and most municipal and county employees in this area could improve their financial lot by flipping hamburgers.

I mean, here you have court reporters wanting to get paid decent money, and the cops and firefighters who put their lives on the line for us wanting to get paid and then you have all of those whiny citizens wanting paved roads to drive on and water to drink.

What is an elected official to do?

The taxation two-step.

First, quietly, the county property appraiser (whose name most residents of most counties don't even know) sends professional teams out to see how much property is worth. These pros (and they are) almost always look at comparable values, sale prices and other things, and decide that your house or business is worth more money that it was last year.

At the same time, much more noisily, the legislative bodies involved: the commissioners, council and board members who run things all create a near-Wagnerian spectacle of sturm und drang as they beat their collective breasts and talk about how other agencies are bleeding them dry.

They then heroically throw themselves on the swords of campaign promises past and, while building the odd multimillion-dollar sports facility to help fat cats get fatter, or helping establish a tollway on which nobody drives because there's a free road right next to it.

They either hold the tax millage at last year's figure or they slightly reduce or slightly increase it and indulge in another ritual, slapping themselves on their backs until they have blisters.

Of course millage is simply a percentage and the same, or minimally altered percentage of a larger figure, is a larger figure . . . so the tax bill you get is more because the percentage is applied to a larger figure for the value of your property.

It is not, the commissioner, board member or council member assures you, his or her fault; he or she held the line.

Neither is it the fault of the tax collector (another public official whose name most people don't know) who sends out the bills. The tax collector doesn't set the amounts.

And the appraiser, of course, is always armed with a barrel of statistics about how it isn't his or her fault that the three new convenience stores within a block of your house made it more valuable.

I have to wonder if appraisal teams are running through Spring Hill right now telling people that their home valuations are going down any faster than their resale value because of the sinkhole problem.

Former Pasco Property Appraiser Ted Williams used to settle valuation disputes by offering to buy the houses of homeowners disgruntled about their valuations.

Bet that's a deal Hernando Appraiser Alvin Mazourek could find a lot of takers on in Spring Hill this week.

On the state and federal level where sales taxes are big money makers, you should know that the bi-annual campaign to get rid of the penny coin is on again.

Guess now they'll have to raise sales taxes at 5 percent per bite.

Enjoy your rebate.