ELECTONS AND LOCAL TAX RATES

Voters to decide on another tax hike


Published: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, November 1, 2002 at 12:45 a.m.

Property tax bills begin arriving today - another reminder that Alachua County has the third-highest tax rates in the state.

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Library funding The Alachua County Library was approved in 1985, the library was given funding separate from the county. In 1987, an increase was approved to build five new libraries. TOTAL: $1.67 per $1,000 taxable value

Sun file photo

But residents should keep in mind that they have voted in several tax increases amounting to about $348 a year for someone owning a $125,000 home, less the homestead exemption.

About 101,000 tax notices were mailed on Thursday, although about one-quarter of those are just informational notices because taxes are paid from an escrow account attached, in most cases, to a mortgage.

Today - Nov. 1 - is the first day property owners in Alachua County can pay their 2002 taxes. To make it easier, the Tax Collector's Office is now accepting credit cards over the phone or on the Internet and has expanded the locations accepting payments.

"Paying taxes isn't fun, but we want to make it as convenient as possible," said John Power, the county's assistant tax collector.

But like in years past, the one-page tax bill consists of cryptic listings followed by numbers and decimal points and then a dollar amount based on the taxable property value.

Determining the total owed isn't too hard. It's included in a canary yellow box. Figuring out what you are paying for, likely, poses more of a challenge.

For the first time, residents not living in cities will see separate line items for "unincorporated services" and for "sheriff law enforcement." The two categories previously had been combined.

The first listing is to pay for city-type services provided in the rural areas, including fire rescue. The second covers sheriff's deputy patrols in neighborhoods that fall outside of cities.

And in addition to the general government taxes for the county, cities, School Board and water management districts, there are five listings for taxes that were levied only after voters approved them. Combined together, these five taxes represent from 12.5 percent to 14 percent of a taxpayer's total bill - or about $348 a year for someone owning a $125,000 home, less the homestead exemption.

They are:

  • Library District, general: In 1985, voters decided to create an independent special district - in other words a special taxing authority - to operate the county's libraries. Taxpayers pay $1.50 for every $1,000 of taxable property.

  • Library bonds: In 1987, voters approved a $19 million bond to build five new libraries - downtown, Millhopper, Tower Road, Newberry and Archer. That bond retires in 2017. Taxpayers pay a little more than 16 cents for every $1,000 of taxable property.

  • School bond 3: In 1983, the School Board, needing money to build new schools, including Wiles and Hidden Oak Elementary, and to air-condition others, asked voters to approve a $30 million bond. They agreed, and that 20-year bond will retire in 2004. Property taxpayers pay 56 cents for every $1,000 of taxable property.

  • School bond 4: In 1990, voters approved a $100 million plan to fund the construction of several new schools. There were two bond issues - one in 1990 (school bond 4) and one in 1992 (school bond 5). School bond 4 was for $40 million and helped pay to build Irby and Norton elementary schools. Property owners pay 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value of property. The 20-year bond retires in 2010.

  • School bond 5: In 1992, a second bond for $60 million was issued. It helped build Oak View Middle School. Property owners pay 76 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value of property. The 20-year bond retires in 2012.

    Next year, property owners will see another line item for Alachua County Forever, the county's land conservation program passed by voters in 2000. The levy could be as much as 25 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value of property.

    And on Tuesday, voters will decide if they want to pay an extra 50 cents for every $1,000 of taxable value of property to pay for children's programs.

    High Springs at top

    Residents have complained for years that taxes in Alachua County are way too high. Officials have explained that with so much state-owned land off the tax rolls, mostly thanks to the University of Florida, individual property owners end up having to pick up the tab.

    Despite some claims, Alachua County doesn't have the highest tax rate in the state. Excluding the different levies for all of the cities and the unincorporated areas, Alachua County in 2001 ranked third-highest out of 67 counties behind Pinellas and Hendry counties, according to the state Department of Revenue Web site.

    Subtracting out the taxes residents voted for themselves, the county would rank somewhere in the middle of the state.

    All Alachua County landowners pay about $21.58 for every $1,000 of taxable property. The levy includes county government, county debt, School Board, School Board debt and independent special districts, such as the library and water management districts. It does not include additional levies for municipal services in cities and in the unincorporated areas.

    For comparison, using the same formula, property owners in Pinellas County pay about $29.92 for every $1,000 of property; and those in Hendry dole out about $21.59.

    When city taxes are factored in for Alachua County, residents in High Springs face the highest tax rate, paying about $27.86 for every $1,000 of property. That equates to about $2,786 a year for someone owning a $125,000 home, less the 25,000 homestead exemption.

    Those in the unincorporated areas pay the least: $25.06 for every $1,000 of property. Next year, someone owning a $125,000, less the homestead exemption, will pay $2,506.

    However high the tax rates may seem, Alachua County Commissioner Robert "Hutch" Hutchinson said he believes that residents actually pay less in total property taxes than those in other counties, where property values are much greater.

    "The tax rate is only part of the equation," Hutchinson said.

    Discount this month

    No matter how taxes are rationalized, the bill is still due. The earlier taxes are paid, the bigger the discount. A 4 percent discount is offered in November, and lesser discounts are offered each month thereafter. Taxes are delinquent after March 31.

    Most - about 63 percent - of taxes are collected in November, said Power with the Tax Collectors Office. Nearly 24,000 property owners won't be remitting their payment because their mortgage companies handle it.

    To accommodate those who do have to handle payment themselves, taxpayers for the first time can pay with their MasterCard, American Express and Discover cards over the telephone or on the Internet, although a convenience fee of 2.5 percent, paid directly to the credit card company, will be added to each transaction.

    Visa payments will not be accepted, and credit card payments will not be taken at the counter.

    Payments will be accepted at three locations - downtown in the Alachua County Administration Building, the 34th Street branch across from the Florida Highway Patrol station and in Butler Plaza West. Each branch is open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

    For more information about your tax bill or to pay online, go to www.actcfl.org. To pay by phone, call (866) PAY-ACTC or (866) 729-2282 or (866) PAY-ACTC.

    Janine Young Sikes can be reached at (352) 337-0327 or sikesj@gvillesun.com.

    The tax bill

    As Alachua County property tax bills arrive in the mail,

    here is a look at the voter-approved increases

    Listed among the county, city and water management rates are items that voters approved. The following are those on current bills, one that likely will appear in 2003 and one that will be voted on Tuesday:

    Library funding

    Approved in 1985, the library was given funding separate from the county. In 1987, an increase was approved to build five new libraries.

    TOTAL: $1.67 per $1,000 taxable value

    School funding

    In 1983, a bond was approved by voters to make improvements to existing schools. In 1990, two bonds were approved to build new schools, such as Chiles Elementary. TOTAL: $1.82 per $1,000 taxable value

    Preserving the environment

    In 2000, voters passed an amendment to fund Alachua County Forever, to buy environmentally sensitive lands for preservation. This will likely appear on next year's tax bill.

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