More than 1,600 low-income seniors, granted more exemptions than allowed, will get corrected, higher bills.
By BRYAN GILMER
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 31, 2001
The Pinellas County tax collector today will send out 371,366 real estate tax bills, opening a five-month window during which people must pay their annual dues to local government.
But 1,682 of those bills, to low-income seniors who qualified for an extra new homestead exemption, will be wrong, Tax Collector Diane Nelson said Tuesday. Those affected live in Dunedin, St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach.
Nelson said her staff caught an error after all the bills had been sorted by ZIP codes for mailing, making it "too late to catch them" before they are mailed.
To correct the mistake, those affected will get a second bill, marked "corrected bill," with a note explaining the problem. The correct bill will be slightly higher.
Here's what happened: State voters gave cities the ability to provide low-income seniors an extra exemption from municipal property tax. Dunedin, St. Petersburg and St. Pete Beach decided to grant the extra breaks. Seniors had to apply for the exemption.
While preparing this year's bills, Nelson's office was supposed to deduct the extra exemption from the taxable value of homes only when calculating city property tax. But staffers mistakenly also calculated the discount for all the other taxes on the bill, such as those paid to Pinellas County Schools, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority and county government.
The corrected bill calculates just the city tax with the discount.
Some of the taxpayers involved said Tuesday that they were happy to hear in advance that their first bill will be wrong.
"It won't be a problem, not if the second one comes in and corrects it and says it was a mistake," said 73-year-old Donna Hicks of St. Pete Beach, whose real bill will be about $53 higher than her erroneous one. Still, Hicks said she volunteers with other seniors who may be confused by getting two bills.
"It is difficult for some of them to understand," she said. "There's one man, he'd get mail and just get utterly confused."
Though the amount of the error was about $50 in several examples studied Tuesday, it will vary somewhat according to the value of a person's home and the size of the extra exemption that each city gives.
James Mullinix of Dunedin said he wishes that the artificially low first bill -- $58.33 too low -- were the real amount he had to pay. "I can't do much about it," he said. "More money is always a problem. I'm 83 years old and all I got coming in is a little retirement."
For all taxpayers, there is incentive to pay taxes early. Bills list discounts for paying before the bill is due March 31.
A discount of 4 percent applies for paying in November, 3 percent for December, 2 percent for January and 1 percent for February. The full amount is due from those who wait until March.