A proposed constitutional amendment to increase homestead exemptions to $75,000 could be a boon for homeowners, but a bust for local governments that stand to lose millions in property tax revenues.
If approved, homeowners potentially could add another $25,000, excluding school taxes, to the current $50,000 homestead exemption.
At least 60 percent of voters statewide would have to approve the increase in a 2018 referendum.
The Senate Community Affairs Committee, headed by State Sen. Tom Lee, R-Thonotosassa, recently approved the amendment. Senate subcommittees also must weigh in. A similar amendment proposal is anticipated in the Florida House of Representatives.
Estimates peg the loss to Pasco County’s revenues at nearly $1.4 million annually. More than 60,000 parcels would be removed from the tax rolls, said Ralph Lair, Pasco County’s government affairs officer.
“It’s nice to give people the exemption, but how far do you want to go?” Lair said.
The proposal to increase the homestead exemption was one of the issues that Lair covered, as he gave an update on 2017 legislative issues to the Pasco County Commission at its March 28 meeting.
Lair said the revenue losses in some small counties could be so severe that “they’re not going to have a budget to work with.”
Counties, including Pasco, already are struggling to find revenues to pay for basic services, said Pasco County Commissioner Kathryn Starkey.
“Instead of trying to keep our parks and libraries open, we’ll be shuttering them,” Starkey said.
The Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties oppose the increase.
Legislators also are considering a bill that would stop local governments from approving new regulations for businesses, professionals and occupations, Lair said. Any regulations passed after Jan. 1 would be null and void.
If approved, the new law would affect local control of licenses issued to such establishments as liquor stores and bingo halls.
Lair said the bill is broadly written and counties also could lose the ability generally to approve ordinances that impose fees.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Mike Moore said there was push-back on that bill. He didn’t anticipate it being approved.
Another bill is backed by utility companies that want to place cell towers of 60 feet or shorter in rights of way without consulting with local governments first.
“AT&T is pushing this,” Lair said. “If they see they can get this, they’ll go further.”
State Rep. Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes, who is the Speaker of the House, is pushing a House bill to phase out community redevelopment agencies, or CRAs.
If approved, the bill would eliminate all existing agencies on their current expiration date or by Sept. 30, 2037, whichever is earlier.
Meanwhile, no new community redevelopment agencies would be permitted after July 1. Also, existing agencies would be barred from starting any new projects or programs effective Oct. 1.
A similar Senate bill also is in play. Both bills also include ethics training for “commissioners” of CRAs.
Community redevelopment areas are established as special tax districts. Oversight is provided by a redevelopment agency, whose members often are chosen from elected officials within the district.
Each year a portion of property tax revenues collected by counties is reinvested into community projects within those districts. There are rules and limitations on how the money can be spent, but generally the purpose is to end blight and poverty.
The tough stance on CRAs appears to have started with long-standing accusations of mismanagement of the North Miami Community Redevelopment Agency in Miami-Dade County. But, the proposed legislation would cover all CRAs in the state.
Zephyrhills, Dade City, New Port Richey and Port Richey all have CRAs.
At their March 28 meeting, county commissioners had concerns about overly broad interpretations of how CRA money can be spent. Their focus was on what they deemed questionable expenditures within CRAs in New Port Richey and Port Richey.
Pasco is seeking to schedule workshops in the future to discuss the matter.
No one from the CRAs was in attendance to respond.
The legislature concludes on May 5, with a budget that then goes to Gov. Rick Scott and his veto pen.
Published April 5, 2017