|Who doesn't pay? Nearly 400 parcels are tax-free|
|The Press - News|
|Written by Joel Addington|
|Wednesday, 16 November 2011 15:19|
Carmen Bryan’s 26-year-old mobile home on half an acre north of Glen St. Mary has a taxable value of zero.
While its market value is $29,648, according to the county property records, Ms. Bryan said she qualifies for two exemptions that reduce the taxable value to nothing.
The Baker County Commission’s recent proposal to establish additional special assessments for public services like emergency medical services, or EMS, could mean property owners like Ms. Bryan would pay more.
Property owners outside the Macclenny city limits already see two special assessments on their tax bills for the county fire department at $30.50 and solid waste disposal at $55.
The special assessments are flat fees charged to each parcel with a single-family residence or business within the county’s jurisdiction, save those owned by the government or churches.Because Ms. Bryan resides on her property, she’s eligible for a $25,000 homestead exemption and an additional $50,000 exemption for low-income seniors, she said.
She purchased the property for $6500 in 1990 after her husband died, property records show.
Ms. Bryan said she’s called 9-1-1 only once since moving in. When asked if she thinks she’s getting a free ride, Ms. Bryan said, “I don’t think so.”
County commissioners have talked about exempting elderly, disabled and low-income homeowners from proposed special assessments, but no specifics have been released regarding the amount of the assessment or who would be exempt.
The plan has another hurdle to clear, too — the Macclenny City Commission [see related article in this edition].
Discussions on the potential EMS assessment stalled after the city commission’s attorney, Frank Maloney, advised the board that special assessments for EMS run afoul of previous court rulings. Still, the county commission’s chairman Michael Crews is not giving up.
He said the county has requested an opinion from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi on Mr. Maloney’s contention that because EMS benefits people, not property, the special assessment is illegal.
The opinion is expected in January.
The existing special assessments are levied in addition to ad valorem property taxes that fluctuate based on a number of factors.
The tax rates set by the county and other taxing authorities are applied to the value of a particular property as calculated by Property Appraiser Tim Sweat’s office using state law and whatever value exemptions the property is assigned.
There are up to $50,000 in value exemptions available for homesteaded properties. The first $25,000 in value is exempted from taxation and another $25,000 is exempted from the value above $50,000.
A homesteaded property with a taxable value of $100,000, for instance, would be taxed at $50,000, while one with a value of $50,000 would be taxed at $25,000.
There is also a $50,000 value exemption for low-income seniors and others exemptions for the disabled, widows and other circumstances.
How many aren’t paying county taxes?
Nearly 10 percent of properties county-wide don’t produce county property taxes because they have taxable values of zero, and about 5 percent of all parcels with buildings have no taxable value and no county tax burden, according to estimates from Mr. Sweat’s office.
Mr. Sweat cautions, however, that within those 597 properties with buildings and no taxable value there is property owned by the government or religious organizations exempt from taxation.
There are 59 churches listed in the phone book and property records indicate there are 168 parcels owned by the state, county, City of Macclenny, school district, hospital authority or Town of Glen St. Mary. Some in the latter group could be vacant, but most have structures.
That leaves an estimated 370 properties with buildings under non-religious, non-government ownership and no taxable value. Yet, despite paying no county property taxes, the residents who occupy these properties have just as much access to EMS or law enforcement as everyone else.
Records from the county’s EMS department show that of 13 randomly chosen privately-owned residential properties from the 597 parcels with buildings and no taxable, EMS has responded to seven, and one on Lewis Covin Road in southeast Macclenny seven times.
The late Linda Snover’s 1-acre parcel with a 1981 mobile home in northeast Macclenny is in probate and also carries no taxable value.
Her son, 31-year-old Michael Sover, has lived there for 22 years.
Mr. Sover said they’ve called for EMS in the past, “but not a lot,” and that he wouldn’t mind paying an annual EMS assessment in addition to those for solid waste and the fire department.
Rex Holloway’s 33-acre tract on Miltondale Road is exempt from county taxes due to his disability from military service. Regardless, the 73-year-old Vietnam veteran and retired Army colonel said he would support a fee-based approach for public services.
“I’m in favor of everybody paying something for services,” he said. “It doesn’t seem fair to make some people pay for services that everybody uses. What I’d like to see is whoever uses a service to pay, but I know that’s not always possible.”
Few options lay ahead
The current property tax system greatly reduces the taxable value of all homesteads, even if it’s not all the way down to zero.
County board chairman Crews said estimates from the property appraiser showed 46 percent of county taxpayers pay less than $500 in county taxes. Revenue from more broadly levied special assessments, he argues, could help reduce budget deficits the county’s been facing in recent years.
Again, Mr. Sweat said that 46 percent also includes government and church-owned properties, but he didn't know off hand what portion they represented.
The county anticipates using some $2.2 million from reserves to make up the short fall this year. The deficit in the EMS department alone was $440,921 last year.
Mr. Crews said he proposed a sweeping plan during budget workshops last summer to cut county spending across the board. The plan included department consolidations, layoffs and furloughs, but failed to gain the approval of fellow commissioners.
“That ship has sailed,” said Mr. Crews, adding that special assessments are one of the few options left to reduce the deficit.
The most recent proposal for an EMS assessment was coupled with a pledge to reduce the county’s property tax rate enough to offset the fee, Mr. Crews was quick to note.
That way, he reasoned, those with the highest property values, now paying their fair share, wouldn’t see a substantial increase overall, while those with the lowest property values, paying no county taxes under the current system, would start contributing.
County property taxes are levied county-wide while the assessments for fire and solid waste services only apply to areas outside Macclenny city limits. The city, which levies municipal property taxes within its jurisdiction, has its own fire and solid waste departments.
But without the city commission’s agreement on the proposed EMS assessment, Mr. Crews said he would not support it because, under the proposal, property owners in the city may see a reduction in their overall tax bills while those outside the city may not.
He said that if the Attorney General’s opinion favors the proposed EMS assessment, he intends to seek the city commission’s cooperation once again. Should the opinion be unfavorable or city commissioners remain opposed to assessments, he said the county isn’t left with many options. “We can always let the county go broke,” Mr. Crews said, “or we can start cutting services.”
|Last Updated on Friday, 18 November 2011 11:20|