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Date of Issue: June 21, 2007

Tax 'relief' still quandary on Anna Maria Island

The Florida Legislature adjourned an abbreviated special session last week, touting as its accomplishment the biggest tax reform in state history. Gov. Charlie Crist is expected to sign the legislation to make it become law.

Taxpayers, residents and business owners will see cities and counties next year faced with rollback rates of the current fiscal year's taxes.

The rollback rate of property taxes is the millage that would produce the same amount of money generated from the previous year, taking into account the increase in property assessments. Millage is $1 for every $1,000 of appraised value of a house.

Also included in the new law is a 9 percent reduction in spending for cities and counties.

There is also a ballot initiative that will appear on the presidential primary ballot Jan. 29 that would ask voters if they want to change the Florida Constitution to allow the option of having a sliding scale of homestead exemptions for their property.

Homesteaded property owners are those full-time residents who currently receive a tax break, usually on the first $25,000 valuation on their property.

The revision, with voter approval next year, would allow property owners to choose between the current Save Our Homes plan tax cap at no more than the cost-of-living increase each year, or to go with a "super-homestead" plan that would allow 75 percent of the first $200,000 of a home's appraisal to be exempt from taxation, plus another 15 percent of the next $300,000 of value, with a minimum $50,000 exemption guaranteed for homes of lesser value and a maximum exemption on taxation of $195,000 for houses valued at more than $500,000.

Confused? So is everybody else, it seems, at least on Anna Maria Island.

Some Island officials said Friday that Thursday night's decision by lawmakers had not yet been provided to them, and impacts were uncertain on city budgets.

Holmes Beach's staff treasurer, Rick Ashley, said that he had done some preliminary number-crunching and estimated that the city would receive about $250,000 less next fiscal year under the new state law, "but I don't have the final tax roll. I don't have everything I need yet."

Anna Maria's staff treasurer, Diane Percycoe, said she wasn't sure if the new formula for the tax structure would be based on the upcoming July 1 numbers that are provided for property assessment of land for the upcoming 2007-08 fiscal year, or would be based upon the 2006-07 figures.

And they agreed that if the "super-exemption" plan is approved by voters that all bets would basically be off as far as who would do what with their property.

Don Schroder, head of Citizens Against Runaway Taxation, an Island-based group that joined with other organizations in the state to try to halt or at least slow high taxation, was equally miffed on the legislative action.

One of CART's major issues was the "highest-and-best-use" ranking by property appraisers. That designation calls for the hotels and motels to be appraised at the highest possible category for land use, such as condominiums, even though they may be a small resort.

"Mom-and-pop" motels have seen astronomical increases in their property valuation and accompanying fees, causing some on the Island to sell to developers to convert to condo ownership.

"The Legislature has not addressed the 'highest-and-best' use of hotels and motels," Schroder said.

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