County targets property tax-cut plan

Published: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, January 16, 2008 at 12:00 a.m.

Here's the latest quandary for Alachua County commissioners: how to oppose the Jan. 29 tax cut amendment without formally opposing it.

Commissioners spent about two hours Tuesday discussing a public education campaign on the amendment, which they individually oppose. Some believe the education effort should state that opposition, but others believe it should be neutral.

A special meeting has been scheduled for today at 3 p.m. to decide the matter.

"This issue is too important for us not to take a position on," Commission Chairman Rodney Long said.

But Lee Pinkoson, who is also against the amendment, said he believes a partisan campaign could backfire.

"By laying out the pros and cons, I think it give us a little bit of credibility that we are not just doing this because we will be hurt financially," Pinkoson said.

Potential costs range from nothing to $26,000 for a mailout to county residents.

The amendment proposes to increase the homestead exemption, allow residents to apply their Save Our Homes benefits to a new house in Florida, create a limited business tangible tax exemption on furnishings and equipment and create a 10 percent cap on tax assessments for non-homestead property.

Neither the homestead increase nor the non-homestead exemption apply to school taxes, which are a sizable component of a homeowner's overall tax bill.

Proponents believe it will give taxpayers a break, help the overall state economy by giving new energy to a slowed housing market and curb local government spending.

Among the supporters are Gov. Charlie Crist, the Florida Association of Realtors and the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Opponents believe it will lead to a cut in services and will not provide the broader tax reform they insist is needed, such as elimination of various sales-tax exemptions. They also say it will erode home rule - the principle of local control over matters such as budgeting.

Among the opponents are firefighter unions, the Florida League of Cities and Florida TaxWatch - a non-partisan watchdog group. County commissioners on Tuesday discussed both the message and the method of getting it out.

At the very least the county will air information on Channel 12, publish information in a county newsletter and write op-ed pieces for newspapers. All are free. The costs will come if the county decides to mail out informational flyers. Estimated prices range from $7,000 to $26,000 depending on the number that are sent.

Commissioners indicated they will not do a flyer if it cannot be delivered by the middle of next week so that it will not get lost in the crush of election mail for the referendum, Gainesville City Commission races and the presidential preference primary that will come before Jan. 29.

"I think if they get it now, they are more likely to read it," Commissioner Cynthia Chestnut said. "If they get it the last week, it is likely to end up where mine is going - in the garbage. It's too much junk mail."

If the commission decides to go with a neutral message, the information will explain what the amendment will do and list its pros and cons.

Long has already given presentations on the amendment to civic groups in which he said he is opposed to it. Other commissioners said they also voice opposition when speaking to individuals or groups.

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

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