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Date of Issue: March 17, 2005

Tax group talks secession to dwindling audience

While only about 10 people showed up at the Coalition Against Runaway Taxation meeting Nov. 4 - compared to more than 50 at each of the previous two meetings - organizers vowed to continue the fight for tax reform.

Unfortunately, that could be a long and expensive battle if CART were looking for a constitutional amendment, said organizer Don Schroder, president of the Anna Maria Island Chamber of Commerce, the major sponsor of CART.

CART member Nigel Brown said his research indicates it would cost about $5 million and require 500,000 signatures just to have a constitutional amendment changing the manner in which Florida appraises property placed on a statewide ballot.

"And that would take at least two years to get on the ballot" with no guarantee of passage, he said. Additionally, there likely would not be a groundswell of support from inland Florida business owners, who haven't seen property values and taxes double and even triple in a single year as Island owners have faced. The vast majority of those who attended the first two CART meetings were business property owners or those who own non-homesteaded houses on the Island.

"Our conclusion is that attacking at the state level is a long-haul issue," said Schroder. "We're not ignoring that avenue," he added, but CART is very interested in the 2007 tax review that a Florida legislative committee will conduct to look at all aspects of Florida taxation, including the market value system of appraising property.

That's two years away. Immediate action could come from establishing an Island County, said Brown.

At this stage, the best hope for any relief from runaway taxation appears to be secession from Manatee County, he said. "It's our favorite option for financial independence." The Island would then control its own taxation.

"It's not something that could happen overnight," Brown added quickly, noting that the first step is to find an expert who can tell CART exactly what steps have to be taken for the Island to form its own county.

But according to his research, Island taxpayers would save at least $41 million in lower taxes - money that currently goes to Manatee County from the Island but never returns.

Unfortunately, to form a new county requires approval from all the voters of Manatee County and such a new county can't create a financial hardship for Manatee County.

An unlikely scenario?

Maybe, said Brown, but "at the moment, it's the best way ahead."

But CART needs volunteers for a committee to search for an expert to advise them and it needs people to stay interested and become educated. "We can't continue without the support of the people," noted Schroder.

Brown said the taxation problem affects everyone on the Island, including homesteaded property owners. "The Island will lose its character if businesses go out of business or become condominiums, or second-home owners sell out for condominiums."

"It's very complicated," said Holmes Beach property owner John Cagnino.

Indeed, replied Schroder, but let's at least see what has to be done and how much it would cost. To do something is better than admitting defeat and doing nothing.

Schroder said another CART meeting will be scheduled as soon as the search committee has more information on how a new county can be created in Florida.