Leon County could see future tax hikes and the phase out of the downtown Community Redevelopment Agency, if a proposed increase in the homestead tax exemption is approved. County commissioners are bracing for the constitutional amendment advanced by state lawmakers.
The Board of County commissioners advanced a plan Tuesday to increase future millage rates, and phase out funding for downtown redevelopment. The measures would only go into affect if the statewide referendum is approved. Commissioner Nick Maddox wants voter feedback on how the county should prepare for the increased exemption, which would cut local governments’ tax bases.
“As we go throughout the year, having those conversations with our citizens to see how they feel about it, I think that should definitely be part of the conversation,” Maddox said.
If Florida voters approve the increased tax exemption in 2018, it could mean $208 in yearly savings for local homeowners. But it would cost the county $7.2 million per year. Local officials are starting to prepare now for what could be the largest funding cut since 2008. And Commissioner Bryan Desloge says not everyone will benefit.
“I think it’s worth noting that all of the savings, the homeowner savings, come on the backs of everybody who’s not a homestead exemption property," Desloge said. "So all the commercial property owners, in effect all the renters, and everyone else in the community who’s not homesteaded. This money doesn’t come out of the air.”
City and county elected officials across Florida are calling the proposed exemption a tax shift, not a tax cut. Desloge says state lawmakers acted irresponsibly in bringing the plan forward.
“The majority of people in elected office say well we’re gonna give you ice cream for every meal, because it’s great. By the time you’re four hundred pounds and diabetic, I’m three years down the road and I’m gone,” Desloge said.
And he says city and county governments will get stuck with the check. Now the board is weighing public resistance to tax hikes with the needs of the community. Commissioner Kristin Dozier says maintaining the county’s human services is worth raising the millage rate.
“That’s the safety net. If we eliminate that, it will prevent people from being able to gain more financial security for themselves, maybe have more education opportunities, have more property, spend more in the community, grow our economy in the future,” Dozier said.
The millage rate increase would amount to $60 more a year for a home valued at $150,000. But that hike, and the plan to phase out county involvement in the Downtown CRA, is flexible. Commissioners are looking for feedback. They want the public to help guide when to raise taxes and where to cut services. If voters approve the increased homestead tax exemption, it would go into effect in January 2019. In the meantime, sober talks of austerity measures give an early indication of what the exemption could really mean for local governments.