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Florida lawmakers OK tax break for homeowners hit by hurricanes

Property tax refunds will go to residents whose homes were “rendered uninhabitable” for at least 30 days.
 
Remnants of damaged homes and flooded vehicles mingle on Fort Myers Beach on Thursday, Sep 29, 2022, which was mostly destroyed after Hurricane Ian made landfall overnight on Wednesday.
Remnants of damaged homes and flooded vehicles mingle on Fort Myers Beach on Thursday, Sep 29, 2022, which was mostly destroyed after Hurricane Ian made landfall overnight on Wednesday. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Dec. 14, 2022|Updated Dec. 14, 2022

TALLAHASSEE — Florida lawmakers on Wednesday approved a tax relief package to help people whose homes were destroyed or left uninhabitable after they were hit by Hurricane Ian or Hurricane Nicole earlier this year.

Homeowners — including those in Fort Myers Beach, Sanibel and Captiva islands and coastal parts of St. Johns County — will soon be allowed to apply for property tax refunds if their residence was “rendered uninhabitable” for at least 30 days.

Tax reimbursements would be calculated by comparing the value of the home and the portion of the year that it was deemed uninhabitable.

Property owners would be able to get back some of the property taxes they have already paid this year under the tax relief package. If they have yet to pay their taxes, they would be eligible for refunds after they pay their local county.

“Remember, they’re still going to pay taxes. It’s just a portion of the uninhabitable time that they’re going to pay,” said Sen. Travis Hutson, a St. Augustine Republican sponsoring the proposal, Senate Bill 4-A.

The initiative, which calls for spending $751 million in state money, comes after Hurricane Ian made landfall on Florida’s southwest coast in September and Hurricane Nicole made landfall along Florida’s northeast coast in November. The storms destroyed and damaged hundreds of homes as a result of deadly storm surge and beach erosion.

Gov. Ron DeSantis, a Republican, is likely to sign the measure into law. Earlier this year, DeSantis issued an executive order that paused property tax payments for the 26 counties affected by Ian until next June.

Related: Florida Legislature passed property insurance overhaul

How does the application process work?

Homeowners would need to apply for tax reimbursements with their local property appraiser. The application must be verified under oath and is subject to penalty of perjury.

County property appraisers would be charged with reviewing the applications and determining whether applicants are entitled to refunds. Property appraisers would need to notify applicants about the status of their applications no later than June 1, 2023.

If a property appraiser were to determine that an applicant is not eligible, the homeowner would be able to file a petition with their county’s Value Adjustment Board within 30 days.

The bill would apply to primary residences and second homes, including vacation homes.

“The way I look at it is if you are going to invest in the state of Florida, if something happens to your investment, you should be entitled to get something back,” Hutson said.

Property owners would need to apply by April 1, 2023, to be able to claim a tax refund.

Related: Hurricane Ian deaths up to 144, 5 in Hillsborough

Local revenue losses

Florida lawmakers are expected to offset local revenue losses with state funds, but that will be settled during the regular legislative session, which begins in March.

In the meantime, local governments are expected to lose $18.3 million in property taxes with the measure — at least in the short term.

Chris Doolin, a lobbyist for the Small County Coalition of local governments, told the Senate Community Affairs Committee on Monday that some counties, such as Lee County, which was the hardest hit by Hurricane Ian in September, could see as much as $20 million in revenue losses.

Doolin said the measure could impact local budgets because the revenue losses would come after expenses have already been incurred during the fiscal year.

“I just wanted to raise the issue, not to be dealt with today or during the special session, but as we go into the regular session,” he said.

Hutson said the state does plan to give cash back to the local governments as part of the effort.

“We’re really just trying to take dollars from the state and giving it to people so they can go back to their normal, daily lives,” Hutson said.

Other parts of the package

The measure will also set aside $100 million for beach-erosion projects, without the need for a local match from governments in 16 counties. Those include Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Duval, Flagler, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Nassau, Palm Beach, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Sarasota and Volusia counties.

Lawmakers also created a new state-run foundation within the Florida Division of Emergency Management for disaster response, recovery and relief efforts.