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Ideas at tax reform forum produce scant applause

By ANNE LINDBERG
Published May 20, 2007


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SEMINOLE - There were no surprises at Thursday's forum on property tax reform.

Predictably, no property or business owners wanted taxes to stay the same or to go up.

State legislators promised reform. City and county officials worried about how to make up potential shortfalls and the impact of various suggestions on local budgets.

State Sen. Dennis Jones, R-Seminole, blamed the audience for the tax mess, saying it was the public who wanted things like homestead exemptions and a reduction in class size.

"We didn't do that to you, " Jones said. "All those things have to be paid for before we hire one schoolteacher, build one road."

State Rep. Bill Heller, D-St. Petersburg, said the situation would not be easy to fix, but the solution has to be long term so the problem does not crop up again.

State Rep. Janet Long, D-Seminole, said that eliminating property taxes in exchange for creating a statewide sales tax would likely not be considered because it is too regressive.

The forum, at St. Petersburg College in Seminole, was the first of three meetings designed to give residents a chance to air their views about the plans or come up with suggestions before the special session of the Legislature June 12. Below are some proposals and city reaction.

The Democrats' plan

Provides new exemptions for different classes of property owners rather than giving an across-the-board rollback. The exemption will grow as property value in a community increases in value. The plan puts limits on growth of both local and state government, and assessment limits on all property.

"The city of Pinellas Park's Office of Management and Budget has done their best estimate to project the impact of lost revenue from the current House tax reform proposal. The overall reduction in revenue is approximately $5, 200, 000. This is a 30 percent reduction in our property tax revenue and that would be unrealistic, " according to Pinellas Park City Manager Mike Gustafson.

Mario Rubio's plan

Eliminates the homestead exemption and Save Our Homes program. Exempts from taxation 80 percent of the first $300, 000 of a home's value, 70 percent of each dollar between $300, 000 and $1-million, and 30 percent of every dollar above $1-million. Allows homeowners to remain under the existing system if it benefits them.

The city of Seminole would take a huge hit to its budget, which could force it to reduce the level of service for police and fire protection as well as to senior programs and senior facilities, according to Harry Kyne, the city's director of administration.

Also adversely affected could be library services and contributions to charitable and community service organizations. The plan is also unfair for Seminole and other cities that held taxes low. Seminole property owners have really seen only a 5.74 percent increase in city taxes.

Roll back local government revenue

Kyne: Depending on how far back the rollback would go, Seminole could lose an estimated $500, 000 to $775, 000 from direct property taxes alone.

The hit could be more if the county and other agencies were forced to cut back their contributions to such services, as the library and fire departments.

Fast Facts:

More discussions

House and Senate leaders have scheduled a session on property tax relief for June 12-22 and appointed a joint committee to draft proposed legislation in the interim. The joint committee is scheduled to meet Monday to review and discuss options and June 4 to present proposed legislation.

Rep. Janet C. Long, D-Seminole, and her legislative colleagues scheduled town hall meetings in anticipation of the special session.

-6 to 8 p.m. Wednesday , St. Petersburg Sunshine Center, 330 Fifth St. N .

-5 to 8 p.m. May 31, Pinellas Realtor Organization, 4590 Ulmerton Road, Pinellas Park.

[Last modified May 19, 2007, 20:57:12]


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