Local support lacking for tax cuts


Published: Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, January 6, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

The initiative to expand the homestead exemption is either too much or too little for many referendum watchers in Alachua County.

County commissioners are not enthused with the measure because the county stands to lose about $10 million in tax revenue if it passes.

But even people who normally would favor a tax cut are not excited about this one. Stafford Jones, chairman of the Alachua County Republican Executive Committee, said he doesn't know one person who is pleased with the referendum.

"Everybody wanted and hoped and thought we were getting a whole lot more," Jones said. "We were shown the hope and promise of a really big tax cut, and what we get is this."

The referendum set by the Florida Legislature will increase the homestead exemption from the current $25,000 to $50,000 and introduce a tax cap on non-homesteaded property. It will also allow homeowners to keep a portion of their Save Our Homes benefits when they buy a new house.

Gov. Charlie Crist and other proponents say the measures will provide tax relief, make homes more affordable and rejuvenate the housing market.

Opponents, which include law enforcement and firefighters, as well as cities and counties, contend the loss of revenue will reduce services.

County commissioners on Tuesday will discuss the possibility of funding an advertising campaign on the referendum that they say will be "educational" in nature and not specifically in opposition, County Manager Randall Reid said. Reid said possibilities include a mailout to residents or voters, a program on the Cox Cable 12 government station and a Web site with information about the referendum.

The homestead exemption boost would lessen the taxable value of homes, reducing the taxes collected by the county.

The county estimates it would have to cut almost $10 million from its budget if the measure passes.

"We know people don't like property taxes. The issue is, is this a really significant savings. What are the facts? What are the potential savings? And what are the consequences?" Reid said. "There will be a reduced, long-term level of financing for quality of life projects and services (if the amendment passes)."

Statewide groups including the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the Florida Association of Realtors support the measure. The Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce is taking no position, said President Brent Christensen.

However, the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors is supporting the initiative and may undertake a low-key education campaign, said Evan Stone, its governmental affairs officer.

"We have materials that we will be getting out to our members and potentially do a little bit of ad buying in this area," Stone said. "It's an affordability issue. When you've got property taxes going in the direction they've gone and county budgets going in the direction they've gone, there has to be some sort of check and balance mechanism there."

Cindy Swirko can be reached at 352-374-5024 or swirkoc@ gvillesun.com.

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