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Tax break sought for low-income seniors

Florida voters last month overwhelmingly voted for a constitutional amendment that allows local governments to double a property tax exemption for low-income seniors to a maximum of $50,000.

City Council member Shawn Harrison wants Tampa to take advantage of the tax break.

At Harrison's suggestion, the council this week voted to explore an ordinance allowing the increased homestead exemption, which is currently $25,000. A report is due Dec. 14. "I can't imagine how this couldn't be supported," Harrison said.

More than 75 percent of Florida voters supported the ordinance Nov. 7, and Harrison said it should be a small enough group that it won't have a huge financial impact on the city.

Harrison, who is running for a citywide council seat in March, earlier this year made a successful push to cut the city's property tax rate.

Mayor Pam Iorio and some council members adamantly opposed the cut, saying it would provide taxpayers minimal relief and cost the city $3-million in revenue.

But outcry from property owners prompted a majority of the council to support the cut.

"We really touched a nerve when we did our ad valorem reduction this summer," Harrison said. "People who responded, responded in a way that said we want you to do everything you can possibly do. That was a start, but it's not enough."

City finance director Bonnie Wise said she doesn't know yet how much an increased homestead exemption for low-income seniors will cost.

But in light of recent discussions about property tax reform in the state, she did calculate that it would cost the city about $10.3-million if the exemption was doubled for all homeowners, not just low-income seniors, in Tampa.

Janet Zink can be reached at jzink@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3401.

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