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Date of Issue: May 11, 2006

Island business/accommodation owners may get long-awaited tax relief

Island business and accommodation property owners suffering under the weight of spiraling property tax increases the past few years may at last be getting some relief - or at least the opportunity for some.

The Florida Legislature on Friday, the last day of the 2006 legislative session, added an amendment to its growth management bill that would give Florida counties the "option" to develop ordinances that could defer increased property taxes.

County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann had been following the measure since it was introduced by state Sen. Mike Bennett after a somewhat similar amendment two weeks ago failed to garner support.

"This is wonderful news for the Island," said von Hahmann.

"It allows us as a county to develop an ordinance that could defer tax increases on those mom-and-pop businesses we've been trying to protect," she said.

Von Hahmann said she doubted if all taxes could be deferred because that would be discriminatory, but the county now has the "option" to develop its own ordinance.

"All along, I've just wanted something that would allow us to preserve our mom-and-pop businesses, the use of the property, because of the ever-increasing tax burden. Now, we've got the opportunity to develop our own ordinance that will do this," she said.

Von Hahmann said one option she has considered might be that increased property taxes from a base year be deferred until the use of the property changes. "That's just me talking. I haven't discussed these with any commission members, but will bring it up immediately."

Von Hahmann was expected to ask the commission at its May 9 meeting to immediately begin discussion and preparation of an ordinance to bring relief to Island business and accommodation owners, some of whom have seen property taxes increase nearly 1,000 percent in just six years.

She made it clear she was just discussing possibilities for tax relief, but at least now there's a chance that the Island's family-owned businesses won't keep disappearing under the pressure of high taxes and condominium development.

There's still a long way to go for tax relief and a short time to get there.

"All the ‘what ifs' can be discussed and worked out at the commission level," von Hahmann added. "The key thing is we now have the authority to do something to preserve what's special about the Island."

News of the amendment passage brought welcome relief to Don Schroder, who helped organize the Citizens Against Rising Taxation coalition on Anna Maria Island two years ago that spearheaded the tax relief effort.

"It just shows that you can make effective change when people work together," he said. "Everybody came together and we were able to come to an agreeable solution."

Schroder praised von Hahmann and the other county commissioners, Bennett and state Rep. Bill Galvano for their efforts, but cautioned Islanders that "this is just the beginning.

"Now, the county has to look at how it will craft the ordinance and what baseline year will be used" for any deferment, he said.

Schroder noted that property taxes for 2005 jumped considerably for Island business and accommodation owners and he was optimistic the county commission would consider 2004 as its "baseline" year.

Although there are numerous issues for the county commission to consider in any ordinance, Schroder was confident these could be ironed out.

At least there's hope for tax relief on the Island horizon.

"This is the base, the beginning of a long trip," he said.

Former Siam Garden Resort owner Kent Davis, who sold his property two years ago in part because of rising property taxes and was also a founding member of CART, was ecstatic.

"It's terrific news," he said. "What's next is up to the county commission. They now have the power."