|Fees for services system proposed|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Mike Anderson|
|Thursday, 03 November 2011 09:48|
County and municipal officials from Macclenny and Glen St. Mary are now working together on a plan to rely more on special assessments and less on property taxes to raise revenue to fund government services in an era of declining property taxes.
A workshop hosted by the Baker County Commission on the afternoon of November 1 concluded with all participants agreeing that assessment fees is an idea worth pursuing and that another meeting should be held in early December to continue the discussion.
Currently on the table is a proposed assessment for county wide emergency medical services, which would be added to two other existing assessments, one for fire protection and the other for solid waste disposal. Officials also are still considering a separate fee to help fund law enforcement.
Details yet to be worked out include how much the assessments should be, how increases should be determined, how much of an offset there should be on county property taxes paid by county and Macclenny residents and what exemptions might be made for the poor and elderly.“I think this could be a pretty good journey moving forward,” said County Manager C.J. Thompson as he set the stage for the workshop discussion after handing out a packet of papers containing data intended to support the assessment proposal.
The issue came to a head this summer after county commissioners faced a budget deficit and had to supplement the 2011-12 spending plan with $2.2 million from reserves, money that is supposed to be used for emergencies, to offset a loss in tax revenue. The imbalance between expenditures and revenues will likely continue next year, officials said, but siphoning off reserve funds to fix deficits is no longer a viable option.
“The county must continue to reduce spending as well as address revenue deficiencies to remain fiscally solvent moving forward,” Mr. Thompson said.
To illustrate his point, the county manager’s handout included revenue and expenditure data from the Emergency Medical Services department showing plenty of red ink. For example, expenditures last year totaled $1,243,006 but the department only generated $869,652 in revenue.
“The most fair and equitable way to address the operating deficit is to levy a special assessment versus increasing ad valorem (property) taxes,” the county manager said, adding that state law gives the county the authority to implement such an assessment unilaterally but the county desires a partnership with Macclenny and Glen St. Mary to make it happen.
Assessment fees would be uniform. All property owners would pay the same amount, regardless of property values. The current property tax system has built-in inequities, Mr. Thompson said, using data obtained from the property appraiser’s office to illustrate his point.
In one scenario, two neighboring homes roughly the same size and age had significantly different taxable values and county tax bills. One had a taxable value of $29,363 and a $209.93 county tax bill, compared with a $57,743 for the other residence and a bill of $412.83.
In another example, a 2,557-square-foot home built in 2005 had a taxable value of $145,687 and a county tax bill of $1,041.59, while a 2,689 square foot house next door built in 2006 had a value of $102,553 and a $733.20 bill.
Plausible explanations exist for the differences, Mr. Thompson said, including Florida’s Save Our Homes law that places strict limits on annual taxable value increases of homesteaded properties. Then there's the 2008 voter-approved constitutional amendment that doubled the $25,000 Save Our Homes value exemption for such properties to $50,000.
Another explanation could be that the owner of one home qualified for exemptions because of age or disability while a next door neighbor did not.
A key argument that pro-assessment advocates have made is that an assessment on every parcel would require all property owners to pay something for public services. Today many homeowners pay no taxes at all.
Mr. Thompson said there are 9,023 buildings on the county tax rolls presently, excluding churches and government buildings, but about 1,300 properties in the county have no taxable value.
After the meeting, he estimated that nearly 12 percent of all privately-owned properties in Baker County have taxable values of zero.
Macclenny city officials expressed cautious optimism about the assessment plan, saying they could support it if assurances are given that city taxpayers will receive a reduction in the county tax rate in exchange for the new fee.
“I like the process you’ve developed,” Macclenny Commissioner Phil Rhoden said. “It spreads the pain equally. But city taxpayers are county taxpayers, too, and we don’t require all the services that county taxpayers do. I’m already paying my fair share for services not rendered.”
For example, Mr. Rhoden said, the city has a fire department and provides garbage and trash pickup, so municipal residents don’t need the county’s volunteer fire service nor its dumps.
Until a “fair tax rate” is determined for Macclenny residents, he said he can’t support the proposed assessment plan.
Macclenny Commissioner Vernon Bennett wasn’t willing to give his total commitment just yet, either.
“It’s a well thought out plan but I couldn’t vote for it today,” Mr. Bennett said. “What I really like about it is you get people involved with assessments that don’t pay any taxes.”
After the workshop ended about 4:40 pm, the county commission took a 20-minute recess before moving into a regular meeting schedule, during which the board:
• Scheduled a public hearing for 6 pm on November 21 to consider a request to subdivide two 10-acre parcels, the Deer Creek and Forest Acres subdivisions, on Claude Harvey Road in West Glen Estates north of Glen St. Mary.
The petitioner, KRC Property, is requesting a rezoning to permit development of 10 one-acre homesites on each 10-acre parcel. Current zoning allows one dwelling per 10 acres. Planning staff has reviewed the plans and recommends approval.
• Adopted a proclamation declaring the month of November Pancreatic Cancer Awareness Month. The proclamation states that an estimated 44,030 people in the US will be diagnosed with pancreatic cancer by the end of this year and 37,660, including 2,610 in Florida, will die from the disease, the fourth leading cause of cancer deaths.
The proclamation also states that by the time pancreatic cancer is detected the disease has progressed so much that most patients die within the first year and nearly all are dead within five years. There is no cure for pancreatic cancer and there have been no significant improvements in the survival rates in the past 40 years.
|Last Updated on Monday, 07 November 2011 08:50|