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By WILL VAN SANT, JUSTIN GEORGE and ASJYLYN LODER, Times Staff Writers
Published January 26, 2008
Nothing can motivate a vote like a pocketbook issue. And never has that been more true than Amendment 1, the Tuesday ballot measure that would make significant changes to Florida's property tax system. But the plan's complexity -- it has four distinct provisions -- creates far more shades of nuance than most ballot measures. How you and your neighbor vote likely depends on whether any of those provisions will help or hurt you. Here's a look at how some Tampa Bay area residents came to their decisions.
Betty Spivy, 79, of Ruskin: Homesteaded since 1992
Retired real estate saleswoman and broker
Money is tight for Spivy, who lost her entire retirement savings by investing in Trans Continental Airlines, which is under federal investigation. Her income comes from U.S. Railroad Retirement. A widow, she had to take in a roommate to stay afloat financially. She makes a lot of soup and never eats out. And her house is on the market. The extra homestead exemption would help and, if she ends up being able to buy a new, smaller home, so would the relief offered by Save Our Homes portability. "I still don't know if I can stay in Florida or not because of the insurance rates. I've changed my insurance three times this year."
Angie Heintz, 24, of Valrico: Renter since July, after living first year out of college with parents.
Elementary school teacher
Heintz already shuts off the classroom lights during the morning announcements to save the district money. "I've heard that (Amendment 1) could save you a little bit of money on your property taxes. I've also heard that it could take away a big chunk of money from the public education system. ... I'm just wondering if this huge chunk of money goes away, will I have to teach in the dark? ... Will they still be able to give our kids free breakfast? ... A lot of kids are on free and reduced lunch."
Marlene Sallo, 43, of Lithia: Homesteaded since 2003
Attorney for nonprofit agency; single mother of two
Sallo would like to move into a bigger place but can't afford it on her current salary. She is leaning strongly toward voting for the referendum because she likes the Save Our Homes portability offered. She has roughly $45,000 in benefit so far from Save Our Homes since buying her home five years ago. "That would be sweet," Sallo said about the possibility of deducting that amount from a new house's just market value.
Charles Orsatti, 63, of Clearwater: Homesteaded since 2002
Investment property owner; semiretired, manager of private equity company
Orsatti, who voted early, lives in a townhome in Clearwater and owns investment condominiums in Palm Harbor, Mexico and Hawaii. "It's ridiculous" what the state's tax structure has done to investment property owners, who have seen their taxes balloon in recent years, said Orsatti, who is single. "People are just bailing out of Florida like crazy." The measure will worsen tax inequities by conferring additional benefits on homesteaded property owners, he said. "It's a poor political move. They are just trying to assuage the ire of the public."
Larry Auge, 63, of Indian Shores: Homesteaded since 1999
Semiretired after career in construction and real estate
Auge and his wife, Sandra, want to move off the beach from their $1-million condo and take their nearly $300,000 Save Our Homes benefit with them. "If this issue passes, I get to take my homestead with me. And if it doesn't, I don't know if there is going to be any benefit unless I move and buy cheaper and pay less taxes," Auge said. "That's kind of the guts of the issue."
Nancy Butler, 64, of St. Petersburg: Homesteaded since 1978
Small business owner
Seven months ago, Butler and her husband, Harvey, 65, thought they had retired after selling their 25-year-old retail shipping business. They planned to move to 22 acres north of Gainesville. But the new owner, who rented from the Butlers, ran the business into the ground and left the Butlers unable to pay their $10,000 annual tax bill. The couple reopened the business as Mail Relief Too recently and shelved their retirement plan. "I worked my whole lifetime to have what I've got, and I'll be damned if I'm going to let it all go because I can't pay the taxes," Nancy Butler said. "I'm not voting for it, because it's not helping me as a business owner."
Gary Schraut, 48, of Brooksville: Homesteaded since 1996
Schraut has watched his business drop 50 percent since 2005, and he thinks Amendment 1 could help resuscitate it. He has been putting up signs around Hernando County favoring Amendment 1. "I would love to see this pass," he said. The portability provision will "unlock" homeowners from their homes and spur sales, he hopes. "We were looking for something with a lot more substance, but this is just the first step to get there," he said. "I think if we don't take the opportunity, then the Legislature will say 'Hey, people don't want it. They don't care.'"
[Last modified January 26, 2008, 01:30:54]