tampabay.com

Q&A: What tax relief means

By ALEX LEARY, Times Staff Writer
Published January 31, 2008


A day after Florida homeowners got a property tax cut, questions about Amendment 1 and how it will work continued to emerge.

The basics: For most homestead owners, the savings will be $240 annually. People looking to move can save hundreds, if not thousands, more under Save Our Homes portability.

And there are future protections for business and nonhomesteaded homeowners, with a 10 percent cap on annual assessments starting in 2009.

Didn't Gov. Charlie Crist and state leaders pledge that this is just the beginning and more relief is on the way?

Yes, that's true. But it's unclear if they'll actually deliver in a tight budget year, particularly because it was so hard to reach agreement on Amendment 1.

Can't someone else do something?

Yes, there are actually two other options on the horizon.

A once-every-20-year state panel can put tax measures on the November ballot, but at its meeting Wednesday in Tallahassee it appeared unlikely to tackle major changes. "I'm not implying we're done with property tax reform by any means," said Allan Bense, chairman of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission. "But there are a lot of other areas we can begin to look at in addition to putting some window dressing on what passed yesterday."

Also in play is a citizen petition pushed by House Speaker Marco Rubio to limit taxes to 1.35 percent of taxable value. However, that would reach the ballot in 2010 at the earliest. Backers may try to get the Legislature or the taxation committee to pick up on the idea.

So, exactly how will Amendment 1 work?

The increased homestead exemption will exempt another $25,000 of property from local and municipal taxes. However, school taxes are not exempt, so it's more like increasing the current $25,000 exemption to $40,000.

To fully enjoy the new exemption, the property must be worth at least $75,000. Homes worth less than $50,000 will receive no new benefit and those between $50,000 and $75,000 get a prorated benefit. The state estimates the full benefit is about $240 per house per year.

What if I'm moving?

The second part of Amendment 1 is called portability and it allows you to take benefits accrued under the 3 percent annual assessment cap, Save Our Homes, to a new house. But there are limits. It applies only to people who moved in 2007 or later. And no more than $500,000 in benefit can be transferred.

How do I determine how much Save Our Homes benefit I could potentially transfer?

Visit tampabay.com/taxes and use our portability calculator. Or do the math yourself.

Get a copy of your property tax record. Find two values on your record: The "just market value" and "assessed value." Subtract the assessed value from your just market value. The result is your Save Our Homes benefit.

Subtract the benefit from the just market value of the new home to obtain your new assessed value.

What if I want to transfer my homestead to a less expensive home?

Your benefit will be prorated.

What if I already own another home and I just want to transfer the homestead? Is that allowed?

Yes, but only if the new homestead is established in 2008 or later.

What helps nonhomesteaded properties under Amendment 1?

The third provision will cut the tax bill for some businesses by creating a new $25,000 property exemption for equipment and mobile home property. The fourth provision caps annual assessment increases at 10 percent for non-homesteaded property in 2009. However the cap does not apply to school taxes, which would continue to grow with the market.

Does this plan do away with the 3 percent Save Our Homes cap, or the original $25,000 homestead exemption?

No. Homesteaded homeowners will still be protected under the 1992 Save Our Homes. And they will still pay no taxes on the first $25,000 in value of their homes.

When will my local government make the budget cuts to offset the loss of tax revenue?

The tax package is expected to cut $9.3-billion over five years, with nearly $1.3-billion of that this year.

Local governments have already started working on budgets and funding decisions will be more clear by the summer, when 2008-09 budgets are finalized.

Is it true parks will close and there will be fewer firefighters?

Time will tell. Amendment 1 opponents warn of such cuts. But Crist and others say services were just fine six or so years ago before the real estate market sent property values (and taxes) soaring.