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Battle over Amendment 4

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Published:   |   Updated: May 7, 2013 at 06:19 PM
BROOKSVILLE -

Hernando County could see a $113 million decline in taxable value if voters pass Amendment 4 in November's general election referendum.

The property appraiser has released a report showing the impact of the various constitutional amendments on the county's ad valorem tax roll. Should Amendment 4 pass, county commissioners would also be looking at a $638,000 reduction in ad valorem tax revenue, based on 2011 millage.

But supporters say the amendment has the potential of creating more jobs and jumpstarting the real estate market.

For the amendment to pass, 60 percent of the voters would have to approve the referendum. Critics and supporters are lining up to present their sides to the public before the election.

Budget Manager George Zoettlein said Hernando County is in the same shape as other counties in the state dealing with the potential loss of revenue.

Should the referendums pass, it could mean county commissioners will be considering another millage rollback next year.

"It's more of a tax break for the citizens but it would mean less tax money for us," Zoettlein said. "Basically, we'll have to deal with it once we see the ramifications of it if it passes."

Florida TaxWatch, a nonpartisan, nonprofit public policy research institute, said in an economic analysis report that Amendment 4 would create jobs, grow Florida's gross domestic product and increase the personal income of Floridians.

Five of the 11 amendments going before voters on Nov. 6 call for property tax exemptions that would give new breaks to first-time buyers, second-home owners, those whose homes' market values have dropped, certain individuals and small businesses.

In Florida, lowering their own taxes has been a no-brainer for voters. But cities and counties that have to provide services with dwindling revenues are urging voters to consider the consequences.

The most ambitious of the proposals, Amendment 4, would cut about $1.7 billion from local revenues statewide over the next four years. Counties alone already have cut spending by $3 billion since 2007, according to the Florida Association of Counties.

Officials at the Florida League of Cities (FLC) and the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) have formed a grass-roots campaign asking voters not to support the ballot referendum.

"Amendment 4 is a wolf in sheep's clothing," said Bryan Desloge, president of the Florida Association of Counties, in a press release.

"If passed, Amendment 4 will mean that property taxes for Florida homeowners who have lived in their homes for several years may go up in order to subsidize tax breaks for non-residents and real estate investors."

Amendment 4 will likely lead to tax hikes, according to Manny Morono, president of the Florida League of Cities.

Realtors' groups are supporting the measure.

Marilyn Pearson-Adams, 2012 District 7 vice president for Florida Realtors, said she is for the amendment, and not only because it will stimulate the real estate market.

"It affects everybody across all spectrums," she said. "It is a nonpartisan issue. It means more jobs, more home sales and more economic stimulus."

Pearson-Adams cited research that shows Amendment 4 would create more than 20,000 jobs statewide in the next 10 years, and that's over and above existing forecasts.

It would also create an additional $310,000-$383,000 in home sales, add $1.1 billion to the state's gross domestic product and increase personal income by $5.3 million in the next decade, she said.

Amendment 4 would also make it more attractive for investors and snowbirds to purchase homes in Hernando County, she said.

County Commissioner Wayne Dukes said Amendment 4 may provide tax breaks for some, especially first-time homebuyers. But other taxpayers will end up subsidizing those breaks.

"I know it is going to have a negative impact on the revenue that comes into the county to run government," Dukes said.

Dukes said the definition of "first-time homebuyer" in the referendum is too broad. It applies to people, he said, who already bought a home in another state and then come here expecting the tax break.

"If it causes a shortfall of significant amount then we have to find it somewhere else," Duke said. "How do we find it? We raise taxes."

Gary Schraut, chairman of the government affairs committee of the Hernando County Association of Realtors, said he believes the 5 percent cap on non-homesteaded property is "a better number" to help homeowners.

"I know governments are tight for money and yet … the people who own property, they're in the marketplace and they're tight for money too," Schraut said.

Schraut said there has to be "a happy medium."

"I don't know if (Amendment 4) is totally the answer but we have to do something," he said.

To learn more about Amendment 4 and all 11 constitutional amendments on the November ballot, visit www.tinyurl.com/8m4axl4


Tampa Tribune reporter Jerome R. Stockfisch contributed to this report. mbates@hernandotoday.com (352) 544-5290
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