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Politics

Cities brace for tax cuts, blame

By AARON SHAROCKMAN
Published June 11, 2007


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The question of how much your property taxes might drop will be answered starting this week, when state legislators meet in a special session in Tallahassee.

Florida League of Cities president and St. Petersburg City Council member Rene Flowers took time to talk to the Times about the possible ramifications of this tax cutting on local governments.

How bad are you fearing this week?

Not really feeling bad at all. There's nothing we can do.

There's not really much we know. It's kind of like buying a house. Everyone's at the table, ready to go, to get things done, but you don't know how much your bank is going to lend you.

All you can do is wait.

 

Is there anything left you can or will try to do?

We are still meeting. I was in Tallahassee (last week). Our lobbyists, they are all over the place.

 

The city of St. Petersburg makes up about 29 percent of a property tax bill. If I asked 100 property owners what they thought that percentage was, how many would come close?

They wouldn't know. Even when people come to our public hearing, they are wagging their fingers blaming us. We have the Property Appraiser's Office to explain the tax bill.

But they think the city of St. Pete is taking all their money and building dog parks and things like that.

 

So, how many do you think would come close?

Less than 3 percent.

 

Why are the cities the target? Why not the schools?

There has been this huge emphasis that our children aren't being educated to the rate they should. And it's true.

But after having a system faulty for so many years, the state is hurrying to catch up.

You can't throw money at the problem and think it's going to be solved. It's a social ill that needs more than money.

We need new schools. But if I can't build a stormwater system for your new school, you'll have a school but no toilets.

 

What's one thing Floridians are probably losing in the name of lower property taxes?

I know that Tax Watch group says that they won't care, but it's quality of life.

Maybe we're not closing the library down, but just reducing the hours. And maybe that computer won't be available to the child who needs it to do their homework or learn.

Our park system essentially provides an afterschool program for a lot of low-income kids. Those kids would be left to their own devices at home.

 

You're probably the one who's going to get blamed for that, you think?

We are the frontline people. They can't call the Senate and House back in session and yell at them. They'll be yelling at me for three minutes at City Hall.

They'll say that we should have known better. And I'll say we tried to tell you.

 

The governor, legislators, all kind of people in Tallahassee read the Times. You have one chance to make your best property tax pitch. Go for it.

Let's look for relief that will benefit all citizens in a fair and equitable way.

Let's look at a long-term solution that won't set us back so far that it will be difficult to recover.

And remember, when it comes to tax cuts, one size doesn't fit all.

[Last modified June 11, 2007, 07:40:36]


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