Homestead bill could cost Alachua County $900K

A proposed constitutional amendment providing additional property tax exemptions for certain professionals is moving through the Florida Legislature and could cost Alachua County as much as $900,000 in lost revenue.

State Sen. Jason Brodeur, R-District 9, sponsored the bill, which would give a $50,000 exemption on homes worth between $100,000 and $150,000 to those employed as a full-time teacher, law enforcement officer, correctional officer, firefighter, child welfare professional, and active duty military personnel. 

The bill specifies that each eligible person must have “the legal title or beneficial title in equity to real property” in Florida and make “the property his or her permanent residence or the permanent residence of another or others legally or naturally dependent upon him or her.” The exemption would not apply to property taxes for public schools, although the School Board of Alachua County is facing its own cut from state appropriators. 

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The Senate Finance and Tax and Community Affairs committees have both unanimously approved the bill, which is now headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee before it comes to the floor for a vote. The measure is also making its way through the Florida House

If lawmakers approve the bill, it would go before Florida voters, where it would need meet a 60 percent threshhold for enactment on Jan. 1.  

Alachua County faces a significant amount of lost revenue, if the bill passes. Assistant County Manager Tommy Crosby, who manages the budget and fiscal services, said he estimates that Alachua County will collect $800,000 to $900,000 less in property taxes if the bill becomes law.

Staff for the Finance and Tax Committee projected the bill cost the state about $83.8 million beginning in fiscal year 2023-24. Crosby said that Alachua County averages about 1 percent of that piece of the property tax pie.

“Our general fund property tax is budgeted at $131 million for FY22, which represents about 78 percent of general fund revenue,” Crosby stated. “How we offset [the shortage] would be a policy decision of increased millage or reduced spending.” 

During commissioner comments at the Levy County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, Commissioner John Meeks expressed concern for fiscally constrained counties such as Levy, due to the potential for lost tax revenue. Meeks said the bill had the “hair standing up on the back of his neck.”

“On the surface it sounds great,” Meeks said. “But if the Legislature genuinely wanted to give a tax break to those people, then they should fund it.”

The Legislature did that on Thursday, adding an amendment requiring to the state to offset costs for fiscally constrained counties—which include Levy, Gilchrist, Dixie, Suwannee, Columbia, Bradford and Union. The bill directs the state to appropriate about $4.6 million to fiscally restrained counties beginning in fiscal year 2023-24. 

Still, concerns remain. Tax collectors will have to verify exemptions on an annual basis, and Meeks said the bill discriminates against people working in professions not on the exemptions list.

“Essentially you’re saying someone who works in the cafeteria of the school isn’t as worthy of a tax break as someone who is in the classroom,” he said. 

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