ST. PETE BEACH – During the past fiscal year, several strokes of good luck came together to allow the city to recommend keeping St. Pete Beach’s property tax rate set at 3.15 mills for the fifth fiscal year in a row.
Sales of major hotel properties, condos and homes, which got placed into higher-assessed tax brackets, along with enjoying the county’s highest increase in property values, at 11.74 percent, all added up to bolster city’s coffers.
According to the Pinellas County Property Appraiser’s Office, because the city’s total assessed property value rose by 11.74 percent, St. Pete Beach could approve the “rollback rate” of 2.82 mills to take in the same amount of revenue as it did last year. By keeping its millage at 3.15, the city will take in about $945,705 more from property taxes.
A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value, minus homestead and other exemptions.
Commissioner Ward Friszolowski noted “we should explain why we aren’t considering the rollback rate; it’s because the excess dollars that we are receiving are being put into infrastructure and undesignated reserve funds. It’s important to note we are not just spending it on general operations.”
While the city is blessed with added revenue, city commissioners empathize with those home buyers who recently moved into residences and do not qualify for the Save Our Homes Cap, or those with second homes that do qualify for homestead exemption since they must dole out much more in property taxes.
Commissioner Melinda Pletcher said the city should also remember the folks that sold their homes this year whose property had a Save Our Homes cap for the last 25 years. The new homeowner is being assessed at a higher rate.
“As far as residential it was significant, the sales that we had in the last year and how that’s helped out as well, because otherwise we won’t be able to hold this to the 3.15,” Pletcher explained.
“We are very blessed to be in this situation, but… it is very unfair. My next door neighbor pays twice the taxes I do for the exact same house,” Pletcher noted.
Friszolowski added, considering those without homestead exemption, “there is still a lot of unfairness in the system. I mean, I’m not against homestead exemption…but you can clearly have someone right next door or across the street from somebody else who’s paying a big difference.”
Pletcher added, “twice for the same house.”
Friszolowski continued; “for the same exact house and for the same exact services. I think we have to be careful about balancing that equation.”
Commissioner Terri Finnerty said her condo is twice as large as one she owns with her mom, yet she pays twice as much for her mother’s residence, because it does not qualify for homestead exemption.
Commissioner Rick Falkenstein said some of the increase in property tax revenue enjoyed by the city has to do with sales of hotel and commercial properties, such as the Don CeSar and Sirata Beach Resort.
He suggested when redevelopment of commercial districts starts to occur in earnest, and hotels built in the 1950s and 1960s get demolished and replaced with new structures, that too will increase property values.
Mayor Al Johnson said the city’s big win is that St. Pete Beach recorded the highest property value increase of all the other 23 municipalities in the county.
“That’s the good news; the bad news is if voters adopt an additional homestead exemption this fall, we’re going to take the biggest hit. It’s going to cost us a quarter-million dollars in tax revenue,” he said.
“It sounds like a great deal,” the Mayor added, “but effectively what Tallahassee has done is they made it so we have to raise taxes just to cover what they are giving back.”
Finnerty said “we have to educate people on how to vote for that; that’s going to be my charge for sure.”
Public hearings and a vote to adopt a millage rate and 2019 fiscal year budget are scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m. and Tuesday, Sept. 18, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.