Commissioner-Charles-Justice-web
Charles Justice
Pinellas County Commission Chairman
You’ll have some important decisions to make when you receive your ballot for the Nov. 6 election. I would like to offer some thoughts about one that could have a major impact not only in Pinellas County, but in local communities across the state. That’s Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 seeks to add another homestead property exemption for a limited portion of homeowners. I believe it’s important to understand who would actually qualify for the exemption and the larger effect it could have on the ability of local governments to provide essential services.

For those who aren’t familiar with the term homestead exemption, it’s simply a portion of a home’s assessed value that the owner doesn’t pay property tax on. Currently in Florida, county and city property taxes are not assessed on the first $25,000 of value and the value between $50,000 and $75,000. Amendment 1 would add a third exemption for $100,000 for $125,000 for all property taxes except the school tax.

In Pinellas County, two out of three homes would not qualify for the proposed extra exemption. Property owners only receive a homestead exemption for their primary residence. This means landlords, renters and businesses do not receive the benefit. Many primary residences do not have an assessed value above $100,000, in part because a cap on annual increases called Save Our Homes keeps many assessed values well below market value.

Your local elected officials did not put Amendment 1 on the ballot. The idea came from lawmakers in Tallahassee who would not face a reduction in tax revenues if the amendment passes. In Florida, state government is primarily supported by our base 6-cent sales tax, whereas county and city governments rely on property taxes to deliver most local services.

In Pinellas County, our county and city governments, along with other taxing districts, would lose a projected $42.5 million a year starting in Fiscal Year 2020 after the proposed third exemption takes effect. These funds support a range of public services, including emergency medical services, law enforcement, fire districts, libraries, parks and much more.

Amendment 1 requires 60-percent approval to pass, and nowhere near 60 percent of our residents would benefit. In fact, passage of this constitutional amendment could result in a tax shift whereby the burden for funding local services shifts from one group to another. With Amendment 1, the minority who qualify for the third exemption will pay proportionally less toward the total cost of local government services, while the majority pay proportionally more.

If local governments increase their millage rate (the tax charged per $1,000 of assessed value) to make up for the lost revenue, the residents who don’t receive the new benefit would feel the heaviest burden. I’m not saying that will happen in Pinellas County, but the loss in tax revenue would have to be offset in some manner. Amendment 1 may benefit a minority of homeowners, but it creates tough choices for our community as a whole.

Do you qualify for the additional exemption? The Pinellas County Property Appraiser has developed a statewide tool to help you answer that question. You can access the tool at this website, www.3hxestimator.org, or by visiting the Property Appraiser’s homepage at pcpao.org. On the website, you will be asked to select your County and then enter your address to get an estimate of how much of an additional homestead exemption your property could receive. The county also has an educational website about Amendment 1, which I encourage you to review and share with your neighbors: www.pinellascounty.org/amendment1.

A always, if you have questions or comments, you can call my office at (727) 464-3363 or email me at cjustice@pinellascounty.org.