BELLEAIR BLUFFS - While Florida's Legislature toys with ideas for tax relief, including an increase in the sales tax and a doubling of homestead exemptions, Mayor Chris Arbutine says the real problem lies elsewhere.
Florida residents have been in a financial crisis in recent months. The cost of taxes and insurance make Sunshine State residents fearful and the grumbling grows louder.
Particularly unfair in the view of many is the increased cost of insurance brought about by hurricanes and storms that have hit elsewhere in the state. This area is lucky in that it is very seldom ever hit by a hurricane (the last real one was about 85 years ago).
When it comes to taxes, Arbutine thinks it is a crisis not so much for homeowners whose increased rates are restricted by law but for new home buyers, renters, businesses, rental property owners and seasonal residents.
"Relief from our current tax 'crisis' cannot and will not ever be solved by limiting local budgets and spending from a state level," Arbutine says.
"Citizens already have the ability to do this by attending local budget hearings and by voting for local leaders," he says.
Arbutine insists that the tax "crisis" be labeled correctly. He says, "It is a taxing inequity not a tax crisis.
Arbutine maintains that the current real property taxing structure Florida is broken. He says the state has outgrown the system put in place in the early 1990s.
Arbutine points out that local officials have virtually nothing to do with affecting taxes. He says that "Where you see expanded city budgets you will also invariably see expanded growth and consequent need."
"Proposals of portability, caps for business property and an increase in homestead exemption are nothing more than "smoke and mirrors" or "band aids" to delay a total melt down," Arbutine says. "Until all property owners pay similar and fair rates of taxes there can be no relief of a permanent nature. The entire taxing structure must be changed."
Arbutine is calling for the creation of a new taxing structure on a statewide level. Solving the property tax problems through yet another statewide referendum will not solve this issue, he says.
"The specifics of what, where, when and how of these issues are above my pay grade as a local mayor," he says. "Our elected legislators and the governor can no longer afford to pass the buck or blame local government for a problem created at the state level."