With Legislature's Tax Reforms City Budget Makers Get To Work
by Leo Coughlin
Now that the Legislature has done its work, leaving, perhaps, as much confusion as clarity in the minds of many citizens, local cities can get down to the business of constructing their fiscal year 2008 budgets with the new tax structure in mind.
There has been a holdup in budget planning, awaiting the outcome of deliberations in Tallahassee.
What the people wanted was a tax cut. And a tax cut translates into less revenue for cities and the county.
Because that structure is multi-faceted, the situation boils down to applying the metrics to each particular jurisdiction.
Gov. Charlie Crist, who signed the legislation just a week ago, called it "landmark" and a "people's tax cut."
First off, all property taxes, according to the measure will be rolled back to last year's levels.
You can bet this has set off a flurry of activity in the office of the Tax Assessors all over the state.
Cities (and the counties) have been the beneficiaries of rising real estate values over the years. For example, a city did not even have to raise its millage rate to ensure that more money flowed into its offers.
Politicians could say, "We did not raise taxes." That is so ambiguous as to make a clever lawyer beam with pride. The very fact that the levy exists "raises" taxes. If no "increase" was meant, then the pols could point to a millage rate that stayed the same.
But Mr. and Mrs. Taxpayer looked at what they wrote in their checkbooks. If it was more than last year, it was a tax increase.
With all the money flooding into city treasuries in recent years, it took a lot of intense sessions at the executive levels of city halls figuring out how to spend this largesse.
Notably, a little town in Pinellas County nestled by the Gulf of Mexico, which has a very sensible mayor, John Robertson, did not have its commission figuring out ways to spend the money.
The philosophy in Belleair Shore is to add up what is needed, emphasize needed, in the forthcoming year and then get the funds to pay for those needs.
That is in sharp contrast to a city like Largo where ways had to be found to spend money that was going to come anyway. For example, if a trash truck got to the point that it needed an oil change, what they heck, buy a brand new, shiny one.
Indian Rocks Beach seems to have slipped into that way of thinking when, in the face of possible sharp cutbacks, when others around here were girding their loins for paring budgets, some poohbahs there thought up new and expensive ways to spend money (that was nowhere in sight).
Upbraided for such grandiose pie in the sky spending plans (a super-duper library among them), the perpetrators of this nonsense responded with an e-mail barrage. Such is life in small town America.
Under the new tax set-up, taxpayers, depending on where they live, will see a cut of from five to 10 percent. The average property owner, the governor said, will save $200 this year and all property owners are expected to save about $15 billion over the next five years (which means, apparently, that governments will do with that much less over that period of time).
Homeowners will get the opportunity in January to select new "super-sized" homestead exemptions, which range from the low level of doubling the current $25,000 amount to exempting 75 percent of the first $200,000 of a home's value, depending on various factors.
In the meantime, city budget makers who will present spending plans to elected officials, have sharpened their pencils and oiled up their calculators.
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