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STORMS SUMS UP TAX PLAN

"Conflicted'' herself, she sympathizes with residents.

More than 50 residents waited on a recent Thursday for Sen. Ronda Storms to explain property taxes, the fate of which depends on voters.

Storms, the Republican from Valrico, walked into the Plant City auditorium July 19 and laid out a dizzying maze of bills and referendums to a crowd that wanted answers.

A freshman state senator, Storms serves on the Finance and Tax Committee that drafted a tax bill that goes to Florida voters in January. Storms said she would have voted against the legislation, had not a provision to save a version of the Save Our Homes program been added at the 11th hour.

Even so, her support for the proposed tax reform appeared lukewarm.

"I was so incredibly conflicted by this," Storms said.

Citizens folded their arms. Many looked like they had worked a full day and were tired.

Here are highlights of the constitutional amendment voters will see in a Jan. 29 referendum:

If voters approve the amendment, homestead exemptions will rise from the current $25,000 to up to $195,000 on a home valued at $500,000.

Homeowners would have a one-time choice of going with the new exemption or keeping their Save Our Homes benefit, which limits increases on property value to 3 percent a year.

Those who elect to keep Save Our Homes can't move or they will lose the benefit.

Nor would home buyers be able to claim the Save Our Homes benefit after the legislation goes into effect. The bill, should it become law, will phase out the program entirely as homeowners move or die.

That bothers Storms, who said she had wanted to strengthen Save Our Homes by making it portable instead of allowing it to die on the vine.

But she also sympathized with homeowners who find the current system and its enormous tax disparities unfair.

"Don't try and decide whether you're going to support Jan. 29 or not based on its impact for you today," Storms advised residents. "Instead, think about the whole state and say, 'Is this something I want to make a change to, or is this something I don't want to make a change to?' "

But some residents have little faith that any tax breaks they get will last.

"This looks like a rushed deal," said Taylor McMeen, 69, of Plant City. "Whether this passes or fails, we're not going to be better off."

Information from Times files was used in this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at 661-2431 or ameacham@sptimes.com.

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