In 1982, the state increased the state-levied sales tax from four percent to five percent, and half of the “new penny” was pledged to cities and counties to help with property tax relief. To qualify for the new half cent, a city or county had to reduce its millage rate.
In 1994, the “Save Our Homes” amendment to the Florida Constitution set a cap of three percent, or the consumer price index, whichever is less, as the rate at which homesteaded property could increase in value within a year. This measure was designed to protect homesteaded property from large jumps in valuation.
An early projection shows Florida state lawmakers could have a surplus of $845.7 million as they craft a 2014-15 state budget. Do the counties go to the state with the tax surplus in their asserted “time of crisis” or do they just roll on down the river of raising property tax millage rates? This is the frustrating thing - taxes ALWAYS ratchet up, they almost never ratchet down, even when they were intended to and when a tax does go down a little, another shoots up like Torpedo Weed. Only by vigorous, or rigorous, taxpayer initiated uprisings is the upward spiral even temporarily moderated. Taxpayers should not have to live on the doorsteps of the Commissioners’ Meeting Room to monitor whether politicians are trying to raise their taxes.
I’m a Santa Rosa County father and grandfather who wakes up almost every day to read of either increased taxes, increased vehicle registrations increased food costs, increased fuel costs, increased home insurance premiums, increased health insurance premiums and I wonder, how are my children and grandchildren going to survive, much less thrive economically. Are we dooming our children to failure with all the burdens we are adding to their load?
But some politicians quickly retort, “Oh, that’s not MY tax, that’s a tax from another department” - then they propose and enact new departments and agree to collaborate with departments on those various levels to require new regulations and create even more departments. And ALL THOSE departments suck the financial blood from the taxpayer. A protest included in the Declaration of Independence declared, “He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people, and eat out their substance.” Is the government doing different now?
Then I get phone calls - here a family of four has received word that one of the parents will have their hours of work reduced, largely because of governmental policies. Another call comes in soon - a home has burned with no insurance, the tenants were barely paying the bills to begin with - and now two families with a total of six kids are doubling up in a one-bathroom home. I remember another call - a navy veteran came only a few days from seeing his home auctioned off to satisfy a property tax certificate holder. His home was barely spared by a last minute grant from a group who was administering funds from a different level of government department. One level takes the gross, another level gives back the net, and the people are jacked around. Cash flow is the political game. And families are jacked around.
Now one commissioner says that we need more good-government things like more parks and libraries and sidewalks and people to cut the grass in the parks and libraries and librarians (three to five at a time) and Tahoes and Yukons and fuel for Tahoes and Yukons and more community centers and more grass-cutters and more money to pay for electric bills at all these places, and horse arenas in our county and we need you to pay for them - because, you know; people just don’t help themselves anymore, the government has to do it all. And if we don’t do for them, they’ll break the law and we’ll have to build more jails. (Hmmm, I think, my siblings and I lived in a community with not one government provided “center” and not one of us has spent the night in a jail cell.)
And, the tax-raiser says, “We also need people to ride around in our cars and assess your taxes and more people to tell you exactly what you’re allowed to do with ‘your’ property that you ‘own.’ In fact, you’re selfish if you don’t want to pay more for all these good things.” So families give up vacations and dinners out with their families, and double-up in houses and drive cars with 200,000 miles to fund these “good things.”
Another political department head speaks of the new employees making only $30,000 per year that he may loose if he doesn’t get this tax increase. He makes case that beginning deputies only make $30,000 per year. But his salary structure goes over $125,000 per year, (yes, that salary dictated by even another political department) and his immediate subordinates make over $80,000 per year, not to count a very generous benefit and retirement package, and their choice of action is to “Roll on Down the River” and ask for a tax increase. No, don’t think about re-structuring the pay scale, that would be paddling against the current - just “Roll on Down the River” like big spenders have done for years.
The Commissioners should set the millage rate at the “rollback” rate, (which still allows for an increase due to the cost-of-living index) thereby giving the taxpayers a small glimmer of hope that this board is truly dedicated to the principles of smaller and more efficient government as intended by the “Save our Homes” amendment. Some revenue streams need to be redirected or partially diverted in accord with responsibly established priorities, such as the electric bill tax that has been used for over a decade to over-build recreation facilities across our county. And I am asking the Sherriff to go back to his department and find the ways, no matter how difficult, to adjust his budget to give those on the bottom end the appropriate pay and benefits package, while adjusting in other areas appropriately to accomplish this end. Maybe employees making over $40,000 with good benefits and steady jobs could share just a small amount of the pain being felt broadly throughout the private sector. That is what Santa Rosa families have to do in hard times. In case this board and the Sherriff have missed it, times are still really tough in the world most of the taxpayers live in.