INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – Mayor Bill Ockunzzi has taken his theme of beach cities being unfairly burdened in the Pinellas County tax scheme to a new level.
Using the current theme of the county becoming a mecca for high income residents and investors owning high priced condominiums and squeezing out middle income property owners, renters and visitors, Ockunzzi focused on the problem with an analysis of the skewed tax set up fostered by the county.
The county is coming under a lot of fire as it illegally, as some claim, blocks annexations and engages in false propaganda, as others assert, before county’s charter review committee.
An idea that the county’s administrator, who has his professional roots in Miami-Dade, was brought here to convert Pinellas County into a similar form of government is widely discussed.
One member of the county commission is fostering much discomfit with her horrid aggressive and combative attitude, in one instance in a recent meeting using vulgar language to dispute what Rick Baker, the mayor of St. Petersburg, was asserting.
In the case of Ockunzzi, he has presented a well reasoned position that illustrates what he feels is the unfair tax vise beach communities find themselves in.
His voice, one suspects, will be more than that of one crying in the wilderness, because Ockunzzi usually shows up with the facts and knows how to articulate them in the context of his arguments.
“The beach communities are largely hostage to the tax and development policies of Pinellas County and larger cities,” Ockunzzi says.
“For example,” he says, “only about 11 percent of the total property tax paid by an Indian Rocks Beach property owner goes to the city. Pinellas County gets 35 percent, the School Board 45 percent and the rest to other entities in the county.”
At the same time, Ockunzzi points out, property owners are suffering the effects from a “perfect storm,” that is, “uncontrolled and rising taxes, insurance costs, fees and rates for public utilities and rising interest rates.”
While Indian Rocks Beach cut its tax rate by 17 percent (an aggregate 29 percent since 2004) for fiscal year 2006, now underway, the county has increased taxes since 2004 by 40 percent, Ockunzzi says.
“They claim property taxes are not being increased because the millage rate was not increased,” Ockunzzi says, but points out that the tax bills tell a different story.
What government authorities try to do is pull the wool over the public’s eyes, claiming no tax increases if millage rates stay the same while they take advantage of increased valuations.
A tax increase or not is judged on the bottom line – if you pay more this year than last, in the same property, you have had a tax increase. Even the law specifies this.
Ockunzzi is disturbed by the imbalance of the beach communities vis a vis the county.
“The 10 beach communities comprise about 3.5 percent of the county population but these cities pay 12 percent of the county property taxes,” Ockunzzi says.
As typical of the skewed view the county takes toward responsibility for infrastructure in the county, Ockunzzi cites proposal to underground wires on Gulf Boulevard. “Even though the county’s tax revenues from Indian Rocks Beach alone will rise by $1.5 million or 23 percent this year,” Ockunzzi says, nevertheless the county expects the city to fund a large portion of any such project.
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