Editor’s Note: This column is in response to a recent Times editorial titled “No better time for property tax relief.”
For more than a century, Florida has relied on growth to fuel its economy. More tourists. More inhabitants. More houses. What is the Tampa Bay Weather editorial fails to recognize that growth is not self-financing.
If growth paid for itself, Florida wouldn’t rank near the bottom in education or mental health spending. Hillsborough County wouldn’t need as many road improvements or new sidewalks. Our law enforcement agencies and fire departments would not be required to add more resources to maintain high quality public safety. Our residents wouldn’t be so desperate for more affordable housing so they can continue to live in the county where they grew up, went to school and went to work.
Neither Hillsborough County nor the three municipalities are increasing their property tax rates, also known as mileage rates, which have remained constant in recent years. Yet the Times editorial insists that market-driven increases in overall real estate value are forcing local governments to consider reducing existing mileage rates. To support this claim, the article glosses over existing protections for homeowners and businesses and does not suggest exactly what services and infrastructure residents should sacrifice.
On the one hand, protections already exist to protect residents and businesses from large increases in assessed value. For example, homes owned and occupied by permanent residents of Hillsborough County, or family properties, make up 68% of all residential properties here. Farm value is reduced by exemptions and capped by the Save Our Homes Amendment to the Florida Constitution.
The value of the property cannot increase by more than 3% per year. The goal is to protect family homes. Non-family properties, including rented and vacation homes and businesses, are capped at a 10% increase each year. These legal limitations protect homeowners from exorbitant tax increases when real estate investors drive up property values.
Analysts call our housing market one of the most expensive in the country. A quarter of Hillsborough County homes are purchased by investors. We are also seeing a growing trend of single-family homes being purchased by business owners, which are driving up house prices for both buyers and renters. The robust protections of homesteads do not and should not extend to these properties. The fact that investors have created an overvalued real estate market is no reason to lower mileage rates and deprive residents of the infrastructure and services they need.
In Hillsborough County, we are preparing to invest in the priorities our residents want us to address while maintaining the same property tax rate. Our county has added approximately 100,000 new residents since 2018 and is expected to grow another 700,000 over the next 30 years. We are therefore taking $10 million of the money generated by growth to invest in affordable housing. We are investing $12 million in park renovations and increasing staff at three county recreation centers. We are investing in a new fire hall in Sun City Center and providing $42 million for county employee raises and benefits to ensure we can retain and attract quality staff to meet the needs of residents. .
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Of course, we will not be able to meet all of our needs. Hillsborough County needs 23 new fire stations, not just one. Unfunded transportation needs are estimated at $13 billion and growing. And $10 million is a modest down payment on what we need to improve housing affordability.
Everyone, including the local government, is affected by high inflation, high gas prices and high housing costs. But a cut in the property tax rate wouldn’t pay for a tank of gas for most residents. However, this reduction would have a significant impact on how we can improve the quality of life for residents who demand better roads, more parks and safer neighborhoods.
The suggested reduction in the property tax rate would be a political stunt and a talking point for the next campaign. It’s time to stop this kind of short-sighted, self-defeating thinking that has led to so many unmet needs in this state and in Hillsborough.
Pat Kemp is a member of the Hillsborough County Commission.