Tallahassee Debates Whether Higher Taxes Mean A Better Quality Of Life

Sep 1, 2015

Credit Nick Evans

Part of Tallahassee’s  effort to fight what government leaders are calling “shocking” crime statistics includes hiring more police officers. But to do that, the city commission is proposing higher property taxes.

Tax increases are never popular. But this one may be more loathed than most. That’s thanks to what the city plans to buy with it. Regina Shaker shared her feelings on the subject just after the body talked over a plan that would increase city property taxes -- an increase the city manager said would be used in large part to cover the cost of hiring 18 new police officers.

“This is something that is absolutely wrong. We do not need more police officers in Tallahassee. You know the fact that there has been all these police killings and not one person has been convicted shows that TPD has no concern for black, brown and poor life in Tallahassee,” Shaker said.

Commission members pushed back against Shaker’s characterization of the department, with one commissioner calling her statement “repugnant.” It is true, officers have been involved in a number of shootings this year, but Commissioner Curtis Richardson says Shaker and others who echoed her point at the commission meeting didn’t seem to understand the purpose of the tax increase.

“Those are not police officers that are going to go out and crack heads and tase people indiscriminately and put people in jail. They’re to go out to work with the community, to partner with the community to make our communities and neighborhoods safer. To make our city in general safer,” Richardson said.

To pay for that the city manager had initially proposed a 27-percent increase on the city’s property tax bill. Later, the commission decided to knock that back to a 23-percent increase.

If you want to get a better understanding of what that means to the average homeowner, ask Doug Will, The county’s chief deputy property appraiser.

Will is erasing a simple chart he’s drawn to illustrate how property value and the amount of tax a person pays for his or her home have changed over the last several  years. He’s using a big white board in his office to illustrate the impact of taxes and exemptions in Tallahassee and Leon County. It can get complicated. For example while home values are going up, under the Save Our Homes program, taxable values can’t increase above the consumer price index. The longer you’ve been living in your home, Will says, the better that news is for you.

“So while everybody believes we have a 3,4,5-percent increase in market values, that’s true, but taxable value is another issue," Will says.

And Will points out the city isn’t the only local taxing authority. Schools collect property taxes and so does the county. Tallahassee officials say the new proposed property tax rate should come out to about $7 extra  per month for the average home owner. But Will points out that rate would be different for businesses, that don’t get the benefit of homestead exemptions and the cap on taxable value increases. Meanwhile, others are questioning why the city can’t do like the county, and keep a flat tax rate. But Commissioner Gil Ziffer points out the city’s rate isn’t finalized yet.

“So I think we’re still looking at ways to bring that down. It’s been suggested that we use a $2-million onetime payment from BP to go toward some things. And there were other expenses in the budget that I think hopefully will come out so we can bring this millage rate down to something that’s really reasonable,” Ziffer says.

And Ziffer points the city hasn't raised its rates in years. Meanwhile, the commissioner says while he thinks hiring more police officers is important, he says he’s committed to finding more way to address some of the issues Tallahassee is facing.

“Hiring 200 police officers isn’t going to solve the problem. Giving children an opportunity, and here’s the big word, hope, and their family, hope, that there’s a better future ahead of them, that’s going to help solve our crime problem and right now we don’t have enough hope out there. We need to do a better job,” Ziffer says.

The commission will discuss the property tax increase during a public hearing coming up on Sept. 16, with a final hearing on the subject scheduled for September 24.

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