Safety Harbor seniors get special tax break

Published May 23, 2007

SAFETY HARBOR - It may be only $137. But city commissioners believe it's a loss when every penny counts.

Safety Harbor's City Commission this week became only the fourth local government in Pinellas County and the region to embrace a special homestead exemption for low-income seniors that state voters authorized in November.

The savings is based on low-income homeowners older than 65 being able to deduct an additional $50, 000 exemption over and above the $25, 000 homestead exemption given to all owners of homesteaded property. Based on the 2006 rate, that would mean $137 in savings.

However, the City Commission has yet to establish the 2007 rate, and it's also possible the rate could change if the Florida Legislature passes substantial property tax changes next month in a special session.

Safety Harbor joins Oldsmar and Dunedin in approving the break for this tax year. Redington Beach was the first to approve it, though that city's break won't take effect until 2008.

To qualify, homeowners 65 and older must have an income not exceeding $23, 414 annually and submit a separate application for the senior exemption with the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office by March 1 of the tax year for which the exemption is sought. Homeowners that didn't already apply for this year will have to wait until 2008 to qualify.

City Manager Billy Beckett said the decision will help about 200 residents of Safety Harbor.

"We have an obligation to our senior citizens, " he said.

The move will cost the city $13, 559 in lost income, Beckett said.

Karen Fitzpatrick, executive director of the Safety Harbor Neighborhood Family Center, was thrilled that the commission approved the ordinance.

"I believe this money could be the difference between being able to afford prescription medication or not, " she said. "It could be the difference between being able to afford protein, meat or chicken, or not."

Eileen Schulte can be reached at 727 445-4153 or schulte@sptimes.com.

Fast Facts:

Senior property tax relief

Safety Harbor joined Dunedin and Oldsmar this week in doubling an optional homestead exemption for low-income seniors for the 2007 property tax year. Fourteen other Pinellas cities plus Pinellas County have adopted lesser breaks for seniors for this year.

Who qualifies: Homesteaded homeowners 65 and older with an income not exceeding $23, 414 annually who live in one of the cities that approved the additional exemption.

How to apply: Obtain an application from the Pinellas County Property Appraiser's Office by calling (727) 464-3207 or download the form from www.pcpao.org.

The catch: The deadline to apply for 2007 was March 1. However, you can get a jump on applying for 2008.

The prize: In Pinellas County last year, 14, 964 seniors were able to take advantage of the smaller tax break, saving between $34 and $130 in property taxes, depending on the city.