WEST PALM BEACH, Florida – Palm Beach County commissioners voted unanimously in September to drop the county’s tax rate by less than a percent. It’s the second time in two months they have agreed to lower the rate. The commission agreed to cut $3 million in unallocated money from the county’s spending plan, resulting in the decrease.
During a nearly three-hour public hearing on the budget, 20 residents, business leaders, and Republicans pleaded with county commissioners to slash the county’s tax rate and find a way to curb higher-than-expected property tax bills. Singer Island resident Mark Valladoa said his rent has increased $200 a month because of hefty property assessments. Property taxes on the eight-unit building have climbed 200 percent from last year, he said.
“You are looking for affordable housing, but at the same time you are pushing us all out,” Valladoa said. “This is ridiculous and everybody here feels the same way.” But commissioners told Valladoa, and a crowd of about 50 people, that those frustrations should be aimed at the property appraiser.
People who received hefty tax bills are those who lost their homestead exemption when they moved, rental property owners and commercial property owners, the commission said. About 60 to 70 percent of county residents are protected by the Save Our Homes amendment, which prevents a property’s assessed value from increasing more than 3 percent this year.
“You are venting, but if you really want to vent, vent at the property appraiser,” Commissioner Burt Aaronson said. “You are blaming the wrong people. We cut taxes, we didn’t raise taxes.”
County Property Appraiser Gary R. Nikolits did not attend Thursday’s hearing, but is expected to appear before the county commission Tuesday to discuss property assessments.
Property appraisers are bound by state law to base appraisals on real estate sales, St. Lucie Property Appraiser Jeff Furst said at a similar meeting Thursday in Fort Pierce.
Local Republicans suggested the commission implement a hiring freeze, and transfer $100 million a year from its reserves for the next five years. The change, they said, would result in a 4 percent tax reduction for most county taxpayers.
“This is not about the property appraiser. This is not about Tallahassee,” County GOP Chairman Sid Dinerstein said.
County Administrator Bob Weisman said the five-year plan wouldn’t work because there would be little money left over for hurricanes, disasters, and other necessities that may pop up.
“You literally couldn’t function as a government, because you’ve got to have cash on hand,” Weisman said.
In July, commissioners voted unanimously to drop the tax rate to $4.30 per $1,000 of property value, from the proposed rate of $4.35 and last year’s rate of $4.45. Thursday’s decision would drop the tax rate to $4.28.
At the $4.28 rate, the owner of a $325,000 home with a $25,000 homestead exemption would pay about $9 less in property taxes this year, assuming the assessed value of the home increased by only the 3 percent allowed under Save Our Homes.
The county’s tax rate does not include taxes for the school board or other taxing districts.
The proposed $3.9 billion spending plan has been under fire since July, when Tallahassee-based Florida TaxWatch released a report commissioned by the Economic Council of Palm Beach County noting that tax collections in the county have soared beyond the area’s income and population growth.
At Thursday’s hearing, the groups suggested the county prioritize its projects � a move they said would make it easier to decide which ones should be cut.
Weisman has maintained that taxes paid by a homeowner in unincorporated Palm Beach County living in a $250,000 house are about $1,200 less than that paid by similar homeowners in unincorporated Broward County.
SOURCE: Palm Beach Post