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Lower your taxes with homestead exemption

By TERESA BURNEY

© St. Petersburg Times, published February 6, 1999


If you bought a house last year, a trip down to the property appraiser's office sometime between now and the end of the business day March 1 could save you hundreds of dollars in property taxes.

Everybody who owns a home in Florida -- and lives there permanently -- is entitled to a $25,000 homestead exemption. That means $25,000 will be deducted from what the property appraiser says your house is worth and you will pay taxes only on the rest of the value.

How much you save depends on what the tax rate is where you live. Some examples, according to the local authorities: If you live in South Pasadena, the exemption will save you $467.75. For St. Petersburg residents who receive their water from Pinellas Park, the exemption cuts $705.50 off the tax bill.

A New Port Richey resident saves $622.50, and the average Tampa homeowner's tax bill is reduced by $667. To calculate how much the exemption saves you, multiply the total millage rate on your tax bill by 25.

There is, however, a trick to taking advantage of the Florida Legislature's largess. In almost every case, you must file for the exemption in person after you buy a new house. If a married couple owns a house, only one partner needs to go to a property appraiser's office.

Some new homeowners in Hillsborough County will not have to file for the exemption in person because they were permitted, under a pilot program, to do so through the title company when they bought their house.

The deadline to apply for the exemption on the house you owned and were living in on Jan. 1 is the end of the business day March 1. Your taxes due in November will be reduced, and the calculation will show up on your property tax bill.

If you haven't moved, and you received the $25,000 break on your property tax bill last year, you don't have to make another trip down to the courthouse; the exemption is automatic.

One word of caution: You must be a permanent resident of the home to receive the exemption, and you can have only one permanent residence. You can't also get a property tax exemption on a home you own elsewhere, even in another state. And don't think nobody will notice. Computers have made it easier for property appraisers to check nationally to see whether you are claiming an exemption elsewhere.

For example, Pasco County Property Appraiser Mike Wells collected about $600,000 in back taxes and penalties last year from people who claimed an exemption illegally, and he expects to collect another $1-million this year. Florida law allows him to collect back taxes for 10 years, charge a 50 percent penalty, and 15 percent a year compounded interest for those who claim the exemption illegally.

Some seniors who are poor have been anxiously awaiting a second $25,000 exemption from their property taxes since voters approved the "Save Our Seniors" resolution last fall. But that exemption has several hurdles to overcome before it actually becomes law. First, the Legislature must approve enabling legislation. Second, city and county governments must decide whether they want to enact it.

Here are a list of the documents to bring with you when you apply for the homestead exemption that you can receive now:

* Florida automobile registration and driver's license if you drive.

* Florida voter's registration, if you are registered to vote. Those born in other countries must have a Permanent Resident Alien Card and provide a Declaration of Domicile.

* A copy of your recorded deed or an application mailed to you by the property appraiser.

* Social Security numbers for all owners of the property and their spouses, even if the spouse's name is not on the deed.

Most counties have several property appraiser locations where you can file for the exemption:

* * *

Pinellas:

(8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, with special Saturday hours from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Feb. 20 and 27)

* * *

1800 66th St. N.

St. Petersburg

* * *

315 Court St.

Clearwater

29269 U.S. 19 N,

just south of Curlew in Clearwater's Countryside area.

* * *

Pasco:

(8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday)

West Pasco Judicial Center

7530 Little Road

New Port Richey

4111 Land O'Lakes Blvd. (U.S. 41)

Land O'Lakes

Pasco County Courthouse

38053 Live Oak Ave.

Dade City

* * *

Hillsborough:

(8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday)

* * *

County Center, 16th floor

601 E Kennedy Blvd.

Tampa

Bay Plaza I, Building 9225, Suite 424

Ware Boulevard

Brandon

Westgate Plaza Shopping Center

12086 Anderson Road, Suite 105

Tampa

301 N Michigan Ave.

Plant City

Sun Point Shopping Center, Suite 2B

3018 State Road 674

Ruskin

Hernando

(8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday through Friday)

Brooksville City Hall, third floor

201 Howell Ave.

(8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Monday through Friday)

Westside Government Center,

7499 Forest Oaks Blvd.

Citrus

(8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday)

New Courthouse in Inverness

110 N Apopka Ave., Room 200

Inverness

Citrus County Center

801 SE U.S. 19

Crystal River

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