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Few cities offer seniors an expanded tax break

Only four bay area cities embrace the $75,000 homestead exemption.

By TAMARA EL-KHOURY
Published June 4, 2007


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Despite the will of Florida voters last November, only four Tampa Bay governments have adopted the maximum property tax break reserved for Florida's poorest senior citizens.

Dunedin, Indian Rocks Beach, Oldsmar and Safety Harbor -- all Pinellas County cities -- took full advantage of their new authority to offer low-income senior citizens up to $75,000 in homestead exemptions, representing $50,000 more than the standard exemption available to all homesteaded property owners.

But no local government in Hillsborough, Pasco or Hernando adopted the supersized break for 2007. Municipalities had until Friday to notify their county property appraiser's office that they wished to take full advantage of the new authority Florida voters approved in November.

Before then, local governments were limited to offering only a combined $50,000 exemption to low-income senior citizens, which some governments in Pinellas and Hillsborough continue to offer, but none in Pasco or Hernando counties do.

To qualify for any size break under state law, homeowners 65 and older must have an income of $23, 414 or less, apply annually for the break from their county property assessor and live in a municipality or unincorporated area of a county that has adopted the additional break.

"These citizens are the most vulnerable," said Oldsmar Mayor Jim Ronecker. "It's not a situation where it's costing the city a tremendous amount of money to give these people something they can use."

Some governments not offering the full break or none at all said they were waiting for the results of a special session in Tallahassee later this month where legislators are expected to force local governments to cut property taxes.

Pasco County Commissioner Michael Cox said he suggested giving low-income seniors a combined $50,000 homestead exemption, an idea rejected by his colleagues.

"They thought there were some unknowns to what was happening in Tallahassee and now I will say their concerns were pretty valid at the time," he said.

Cox said the latest proposals by key legislators suggest the whole homestead structure might be changed radically during the special session.

"I think that the people that I really wanted to help in the long run will get some assistance," Cox said.

The sentiment was similar in Tampa, which has a $25,000 exemption.

Tampa City Council member Linda Saul-Sena said council members think that even the most modest proposals coming out of the state were more generous than what Tampa was considering.

By the numbers

75,000 The amount, in dollars, of a homestead exemption that four Pinellas County cities will offer to low-income senior citizens

0 The number of Hernando County governments that adopted the tax break

65 The minimum age to qualify for the tax break

23,414 The amount, in dollars, of the minimum income needed to qualify for the tax break

[Last modified June 3, 2007, 21:22:51]


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