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Amendment 3 gives extra $50,000 property tax exemption to Florida's public service workers

UWF Police.jpg
Sandra Averhart
/
WUWF Public Media
UWF Police Captain David Faircloth and Assistant Chief Deborah Fletcher.

In addition to state and local races, Florida voters heading to the polls next month will decide the fate of three proposed constitutional amendments. All of them originated in the Florida Legislature. Two involve tax breaks.

Amendment 3 would create an additional homestead property tax exemption for specified individuals deemed to be critical public service personnel.

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This includes “classroom” teachers, law enforcement officers, correctional officers, firefighters, emergency medical technicians, paramedics, child welfare services professionals, active duty military and Florida National Guard members.

Such individuals would be entitled to an exemption of up to $50,000 of their property’s assessed value greater than $100,000.

“Working in this job, we know it’s not higher paying like some of the other jobs, and working in the public sector, providing services for the public, this will be a great benefit for us,” said Deborah Fletcher, assistant chief of the University of West Florida Police Department.

“Yeah, I think it’s good,” agrees UWF Police Capt. David Faircloth. “We have a lot of young officers here at the department, just starting out, lower end of the pay scale and they have young families. So, I think it will be a great benefit for them.”

But, it’s up to the voters to decide.

A yes vote would provide an additional $50,000 homestead exemption for public servants.

“It does not include assessments for school property taxes,” said Charlyle Parrish with the League of Women Voters Pensacola Bay Area.
However, she reminds there will be a cost that comes with approval of Amendment 3.

“It will cost the state and local government (an estimated) $85.9 million loss in revenue for fiscal 2023-24 and growing to $96 million in fiscal 2026-27.”

Local governments are trying to figure just how much it will cost their property tax coffers.

Jeff Bergosh, chairman of the Escambia County Commission, said he and his fellow board members have had some discussions about how much it will cost the county they govern.

“I’ve heard different estimates. It could be $5 million-$6 million per year as a cut to our revenue, so it’s a serious thing,” he said, also acknowledging that the amendment is unlikely to fail.

“It’s one of those things, we know it will pass. It’s a “feel good” thing; it’s a worthwhile thing. We just wish that the state would do more to lessen the impacts to the local governments.”

The state is planning to help make up for the lost property tax revenue in 29 “fiscally constrained” counties, primarily counties in South Florida’s interior and rural counties in the Panhandle.

Currently, that list does not include Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa or Walton, leaving the leaders of the state’s western-most counties and others across the state to figure out for themselves how to make up for the lost revenue.

“Well, it certainly will not come in the form of a tax increase; that’s number one off the table,” Bergosh declared. “And, I’ve been very public about it. I’ve campaigned about it in every campaign I’ve been in, ‘I will not raise the millage rate.”

In addition to possible budget cuts, Bergosh said Escambia County will likely focus on growing the tax base and luring more tourists to help boost Local Option Sales Tax collections.

Amendment 3 was placed on the General Election ballot by the Florida Legislature, with the goal of helping public service workers deal with rising housing costs. The measure passed the House unanimously. It passed the senate 37-1. The lone no vote was cast by Sen. Bobby Powell from Palm Beach County.

“We are dealing with a crisis right now with people being able to afford to pay rent," he began. "I don’t think that us putting another homestead exemption on the ballot alleviates or helps with the situation that we’re currently facing.”

Instead of focusing on a property tax exemption, Powell said lawmakers’ priority should be on figuring out how to help those eligible public service workers purchase a home.

The League of Women Voters of Florida is also one of the opponents of Amendment 3.

“What they state is that the proposal may have some merit, but the League has always had a longstanding position that ‘no tax sources or revenue should be specified, limited, or exempted or prohibited in the Constitution,’” said Parrish.

If the amendment is passed by at least 60% of Florida’s voters, the Legislature has already passed a companion bill that will create the new exemption, effective Jan. 1, 2023.

A no vote would reject lawmakers’ ability to create a new homestead exemption of up to $50,000 and have no effect on property tax revenue collected by local governments.

In addition to the first $25,000 homestead exemption, previously approved constitutional amendments have resulted in additional property tax benefits for veterans and deployed active-duty military, persons 65 and older, and surviving spouses of a first responder who died in the line of duty.

“Think carefully about is it necessary that we even have this (Amendment 3), or should we be working harder to see that these people have a bigger salary, more benefits,” Parrish added in reference to finding other ways to help, without having them dictated by the Constitution.

Learn more about current property tax exemptions on the Florida Dept. of Revenue website. More information about the proposed constitutional amendments is available on the League of Women Voters of Florida website.

Sandra Averhart has been News Director at WUWF since 1996. Her first job in broadcasting was with (then) Pensacola radio station WOWW107-FM, where she worked 11 years. Sandra, who is a native of Pensacola, earned her B.S. in Communication from Florida State University.