Vot­ers to de­cide fate of Amend­ment 1

Con­sti­tu­tional item re­mains divi­sive topic for Novem­ber bal­lot

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Local - By Larry Barszewski South Florida Sun Sen­tinel

If you’re a Florida home­owner, there’s a good chance the amount of money you pay in prop­erty taxes will be lower next year.

That’s be­cause vot­ers in Novem­ber will de­cide if an ex­tra homestead ex­emp­tion should be given to homes as­sessed at more than $100,000.

Many city and county lead­ers fear pas­sage of the bal­lot mea­sure — a state con­sti­tu­tional item known as Amend­ment 1 — will leave them with less money to pay for po­lice, parks, code en­force­ment and other ser­vices.

But they say chances are small that vot­ers will vote against the change.

“No­body turns down a free­bie,” Lauder­hill Mayor Richard Ka­plan said.

Sav­ing money

The tax break on the Nov. 6 bal­lot could save home­own­ers re­ceiv­ing the max­i­mum ex­emp­tion about $250 to $500 on their tax bills, de­pend­ing on the tax rates where they live.

How the tax break af­fects cities will vary. A small com­mu­nity such as Laud­erdale-by-the-Sea could po­ten­tially lose about $178,000 in tax money, while Boca Ra­ton could see $1.9 mil­lion less. Mi­ami would be out

$5.4 mil­lion and Pem­broke Pines $4.1 mil­lion, based on this year’s tax rate and prop­erty val­ues.

“It’s go­ing to be a hu­mon­gous neg­a­tive im­pact,” said Ka­plan, who is term-lim­ited and won’t be in of­fice next year when the next bud­get de­ci­sions are be­ing made. “The fol­low­ing year is go­ing to be a huge awak­en­ing for a lot of communities in the state.”

Homes val­ued at more than

$100,000 would re­ceive the new ex­emp­tion, if ap­proved. The max­i­mum ad­di­tional ex­emp­tion is

$25,000 for homes val­ued at

$125,000 or higher.

The new ex­emp­tion would come on top of $50,000 in ex­emp­tions al­ready on the books. The new ex­emp­tion would not ap­ply to school dis­trict taxes.

If your home is val­ued at $100,000 or less, you won’t see any new tax break.

Many will qual­ify

About 70 per­cent of South Florida home­own­ers would qual­ify for the ex­tra ex­emp­tion. That ranges from more than 90 per­cent of home­own­ers in more af­flu­ent ar­eas like We­ston, Boca Ra­ton and Coral Gables, to less than 25 per­cent in less af­flu­ent communities such as Laud­erdale Lakes, Opa-locka and Belle Glade.

Amend­ment 1 won’t af­fect the an­nual prop­erty tax bills be­ing mailed out later this month. Peo­ple can start pay­ing those new tax bills in Novem­ber, when they will re­ceive a 4 per­cent dis­count.

Most South Florida cities didn’t raise their tax rates this year, but that doesn’t mean their res­i­dents won’t see a higher bill.

Most cities will col­lect more prop­erty taxes this year be­cause of South Florida’s ris­ing prop­erty val­ues. Elected lead­ers can tell their

res­i­dents they didn’t raise the tax rate, while the res­i­dents pay more be­cause their home val­ues have in­creased.

Twenty-seven cities in Broward, Palm Beach and Mi­ami-Dade coun­ties did raise their prop­erty tax rates this year, cre­at­ing an even larger tax in­crease. A num­ber of of­fi­cials said there were lo­cal is­sues be­hind the in­creased rates — such as pro­vid­ing more po­lice pro­tec­tion or city ser­vices — rather than

ready­ing for a lower tax base next year if Amend­ment 1 were to pass.

Cut­ting back spend­ing

Broward County has pre­pared for the po­ten­tial pas­sage of the amend­ment. The county is re­duc­ing its spend­ing over a three-year pe­riod with­out chang­ing its tax rate, putting the ex­tra money it col­lects aside into its re­serves. That way, when it faces an ex­pected $35 mil­lion re­duc­tion in tax col­lec­tions, of­fi­cials

can wipe the money out of the bud­get with­out forc­ing any sig­nif­i­cant cut­backs.

Palm Beach County did some­thing sim­i­lar, putting some of the prop­erty tax dol­lars in a re­serve fund rather than spend­ing them, while not adding new ser­vices that could run out of money if Amend­ment 1 takes ef­fect, County Ad­min­is­tra­tor Ver­de­nia Baker said.

“That won’t solve our is­sue over­all if it passes ... but it will as­sist us in min­i­miz­ing the im­pact,” Baker said.

If prop­erty val­ues keep ris­ing, the in­creased taxes from those higher val­ues could help off­set the money lost by the added ex­emp­tion. Still, Baker said it wouldn’t be enough to help lo­cal gov­ern­ments deal­ing with in­fla­tion or other cost in­creases.

“You still have on­go­ing pro­grams where costs con­tinue to es­ca­late and you have to ac­count for that,” Baker said. “It’s not as though our costs re­main con­stant.”

Pri­or­i­tiz­ing pub­lic safety

We­ston was one city that

did fac­tor in the likely ap­proval of the ad­di­tional homestead ex­emp­tion, Mayor Daniel Ster­mer said. The city ap­proved a 40 per­cent tax rate in­crease in Septem­ber, although of­fi­cials are quick to point out it’s still the low­est tax rate in Broward County.

Ster­mer said it was the com­mis­sion’s unan­i­mous de­ci­sion “to main­tain pub­lic safety ser­vices at the cur­rent lev­els as the de­mand for those ser­vices con­tin­ues to in­crease, and in­crease the [prop­erty tax] rate to com­pen­sate for the ex­pected loss of rev­enues should Amend­ment 1 be ap­proved by Florida’s vot­ers.”

We­ston would take in about $1.1 mil­lion less in prop­erty taxes if the amend­ment is ap­proved.

Ster­mer said the city tries to have its tax rate stay the same for three-year in­ter­vals, to pro­vide sta­bil­ity to tax­pay­ers and to city bud­get­ing. This year’s rate is ex­pected to hold for the next two years as well, he said.

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