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Q&A: Lower bill won't arrive for months
By the Times staff
Published June 15, 2007
When will I see lower taxes? In November, the tax bill you get will be an average of about 7 percent lower than it was last year. This is the result of the rollback plan and tax cap that was approved by lawmakers Thursday. It requires local governments to reduce their tax collections.
I thought the plan was in trouble. What happened? The rollback plan never was in trouble, but the proposal to create a new "superhomestead" exemption to replace Save Our Homes had drawn skepticism from some GOP senators. Very late Wednesday night, lawmakers agreed to one final change that provided the comfort the skeptics needed to support the new homestead plan, and they did.
That change will allow homeowners to decide between keeping the existing Save Our Homes tax cap, which favors longtime owners, and the new superhomestead, which would offer the best tax breaks for relative newcomers.
So, is it all done? Not exactly. The rollback needs only the signature of Gov. Charlie Crist, who will likely sign it soon, but the homestead exemption change must be approved by Florida voters. It will appear on the ballot Jan. 29, the day Florida holds its presidential primary.
However, since it's an amendment to the state Constitution, the new homestead plan will have to win a 60 percent majority, which is a very high threshold. Not many constitutional amendments have been that popular.
So, how would the superhomestead exemption work? Under the proposal, 75 percent of the first $200, 000 in home value would be exempt from taxation. Then another 15 percent of the next $300, 000 in home value would be tax exempt. A minimum exemption of $50, 000 would be guaranteed for homes worth less than $200, 000, and a maximum exemption of $195, 000 would guaranteed for homes worth more than $500, 000.
When will I get to decide between keeping Save Our Homes and taking the new superhomestead? Not until after the Jan. 29 election. If voters approve the new superhomestead, then homeowners will have a decision to make.
How will that process work? The details are still to be ironed out, but here's what we know: The Save Our Homes exemption will remain on your house until you decide to switch. If you want to have the superhomestead applied to your house, you will have to contact county officials, probably your tax collector, and let them know. But, once you've switched to the new homestead, you won't be able to switch back.
How long would I be able to keep Save Our Homes? For as long as you live in your house. Once you move, you would lose your Save Our Homes exemption and you would be switched to the new superhomestead.
How will I decide between taking the new superexemption and sticking with Save Our Homes? That's a tricky question. For most homeowners, the new exemption would lower your tax bill right away. But it is possible that Save Our Homes could be a better deal on your tax bill over the long term. Even though the new homestead exemption offers a steep cut in the taxable value on your home, that may not be as beneficial as having the Save Our Homes cap, especially in areas where property values are likely to keep rising.
When they talk about "rolling back" taxes for cities and counties, what exactly would get rolled back? The "rollback" refers to the revenue that cities and counties collect from property taxes; it's not the entire budget. Local governments also raise money through such things as fees and franchise agreements with cable companies, which wouldn't be affected. Still, property taxes are an enormous part of a local government's revenue stream, and property taxes also fund an array of specialty taxing districts for such things as mosquito control and hospital service. All of those tax-raising groups would have to roll back their tax rates.
What about school districts? School districts would be exempt from the rollback.
How much money would I get back under the rollback? There are tons of variables for individuals because each city and county has many different taxing districts with many different tax rates. But lawmakers have calculated a statewide average of $174 for homeowners. Commercial land owners would save $941.
Can my local government refuse to lower my tax bill and override these plans? Yes, but it's difficult. Depending on the cuts they want to override, they will need anywhere between a simple majority to a unanimous vote. Also, if they want to raise your taxes, they would have to ask first by a public referendum.