As we work our way to the end of budget season in local government, a common phrase is being echoed through the municipal and county facilities throughout our area: “Our millage rate is among the lowest in the state.”
And it’s true. Our area does have incredibly low millage rates, and because of that the general budgets of our local governments are smaller than they could be. But that may soon be a problem.
If passed, Amendment 1 on the Nov. 6 ballot would increase the homestead exemption for many Florida homeowners. It’s a tax break, and we all love a good tax break, so it feels likely Amendment 1 has a good shot at getting the 60 percent “yes” vote.
The exemption would not apply to school taxes, but it would apply to all of the millage rates that help to fund our city and county governments. The amendment would raise the homestead exemption from $50,000 to $75,000. To qualify for any of the additional exemption, a home needs to be assessed at $100,000 or more. To receive the full exemption, the home would need to be valued at $125,000 or more.
An analysis by the Florida House of Representatives estimates “the impact to non-school local government property taxes in Fiscal Year 2019-20 (the first year of implementation) will be approximately $645 million, assuming current tax rates.”
That’s a lot of cash, and it means our local governments will have to find ways to make up that money.
It likely means more proposals like the upcoming local option sales tax in Okaloosa County — also on the November ballot.
The 10-year, half-cent tax would help fund many important infrastructure projects throughout the county during the 10-year period. The additional revenues would allow Okaloosa County and its municipalities to have seed money and matching money to help get federal and state funds for infrastructure projects that are badly needed.
It’s a sales tax, so everyone — including tourists — would pay their fair share to improve Okaloosa County. It’s a good thing for Okaloosa, and it’s something Walton County should consider to help keep its ad valorem taxes low. Santa Rosa County voters added a half-cent tax when they went to the polls in 2016.
But a half-cent tax won’t address all of the income losses from Amendment 1. Other sources of revenue will have to be found, and — because options for governments to bring in money are few and far between — that likely means raising millage rates.
If millage rates are raised with the new, higher exemption, the burden of the additional tax falls squarely on homeowners. Whether that means some homeowners will continue to get a tax cut from the new exemption depends on the new rate, but it does guarantee that the area’s tax burden will fall on fewer people.
The higher the homestead exemption, the more property that is exempt, the fewer number of people left to pay the taxes.
That doesn’t seem fair.