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Date of Issue: November 09, 2006

Tax collector accepting tax deferral applications

Manatee County Tax Collector Ken Burton Jr. and his staff are now accepting applications for a working waterfront tax deferral for county ad valorem taxes only.

Burton said that anyone interested in a waterfront tax deferral should first visit the Manatee County Tax Collector's Web site at www.taxcollector.com, where a "wizard" is available to determine eligibility.

The tax deferral is available through legislation passed by the state and Manatee County Board of County Commissioners that allows owners of certain properties in designated "working waterfront" districts to defer a portion of their tax bill to a future date, when either the property is sold or the usage of the property changes.

Burton said all of Anna Maria Island is considered a "working waterfront" and all hotels and motels on the Island can apply for eligibility. A number of criteria must be met before the deferment is granted, however.

Other working waterfronts are in Cortez Village and along the navigable waterways of Manatee County.

Burton advised anyone interested in applying for the deferment to first visit the Web site before contacting the tax collector's office. The Web site has a six-step "wizard" that will guide an applicant through the process, he said.

The deadline for filing a deferment application is Jan. 31, 2007.

Burton said his staff will answer questions about the application process, but questions regarding the ordinance will be referred back to the Manatee County legal staff. Burton noted that the tax collector's office is not part of county government.

Ray Williams of the MCTCO emphasized that this is "only a deferment, not forgiveness" of taxes. Unpaid taxes will accrue - with interest - until the property owner either no longer qualifies, sells the property, changes the use of the property, or decides to pay the back taxes.

While the deferment sounds like a good deal to many financially strapped mom-and-pop motels on Anna Maria Island, at least for the short-term, there is a downside.

Applicants must qualify for the deferment every year. A property owner who qualifies during one year, but fails to meet the criteria the next year will immediately owe all the back taxes - plus the current taxes, said Williams.

Burton again stressed that the tax deferral may not be for everyone.

"We realize this may be the only viable alternative for someone in desperation mode," he said.

In his opinion, the tax deferral is "only a wet Band-Aid on a ruptured artery," and there are a "lot of inequities" in the process.

A solution to the increasing spiral of rising taxes, particularly along Florida's coastline, can only be found through the state legislature, he said.

"Everyone is feeling the impact of rising taxes," Burton observed. "It's not just here, everywhere in Florida is hurting."

Williams did note that the tax collector's office is looking to crack down on people who have been renting single-family homes for less than three months, but failing to pay the "bed tax." These homes are being advertised as short-term rentals on the Internet and in numerous tourism magazines, but are not registered with the tax collector's office as rental properties. A number of these properties have homestead exemptions and are violating Florida law, he noted.

"We are finding a lot of homes along the I-75 corridor that are being rented that should be paying the tax, but aren't," he said. "When we find a home like that, we're forcing the owner to pay and we're putting them on the tax rolls."

Burton and his staff held a workshop Nov. 6 at the Manatee Civic Center for people interested in applying for a deferment, but said no further workshops are scheduled.

For more information on applying for a tax deferrment, call Sue Profont at the Manatee County Tax Collector's Office at 741-4800, ext. 4832.