Budget Season Begins
Have I lost you yet? Nobody likes budget season. Not even those elected officials whose duty it is to understand and approve the budget for their taxing district. Yet, each year, July and August roll around, and taxing bodies start talking about TRIM and rollback rates. And some eyes start glazing over. Let’s be honest…most eyes glaze over.
Everybody is interested in lowering their taxes. That’s as American as apple pie and baseball. Few are happy to pay taxes, yet most everyone is happy to consume the services those taxes provide. Heard anyone complain about a newly paved street, the fire department ambulance that arrives at the accident scene, or a sanitary sewer system that works? No, we like public services, we just don’t like to pay for them. Especially those public services that we don’t use personally-those are wasteful. Or so goes the refrain.
Too many listen to the talking heads on TV and radio and hear hours of examples of how the state or federal government is wasting our hard-earned tax dollars. It’s enough to make anyone angry. Hour after hour, day after day. Wasted tax dollars, welfare cheats, corporate welfare, bailouts, $6,000 toilet seats, bridges to nowhere and expressways that aren’t needed. It’s maddening and you want to do something about it!
But those state and federal representatives are far away and have layers of insulation between them and the average taxpayer. And they are oh-so-skilled at deflecting a complaining constituent. You know who’s right here, down the street, at Publix or at the next board meeting? Well, it’s your local elected board member of a local taxing district! If you can’t do much about that federal budget, you sure can let your voice be heard on the local level!
Just remember that your local elected official is not responsible for any spending beyond the taxing district they’ve been elected to represent.
Here at the Sand Paper, we attend a lot of local government meetings and hence, a lot of budget workshops and hearings. Every one of those board meetings offers residents an opportunity to offer their comments to the board. Sadly, many of those meetings are held with few or no residents present so boards serve with little input from their constituents.
Come September, that will change as Budget Hearings begin. TRIM notices will arrive in residents’ mailboxes in August with proposed tax rates for all the taxing districts listed. The Budget Hearing dates will be on those notices also, along with the taxable value of your property.
The first step in participating in the Budget Hearing process is understanding your TRIM notice and ad valorem taxes in general. Your input will have much more impact if you know what you’re talking about when you step to the microphone. Here are a few basics.
The TRIM rates are not the final tax rate. The State of Florida requires all taxing districts to set a Truth in Millage rate by early August. That rate is the highest a district can set their tax rate for the following year. Some boards like to set the TRIM rate at the high end so they have some wiggle room when they get to the point where they’re going through the budget line by line. Others prefer to set a rate very close to what they hope is the final rate so that residents don’t freak out when they get their TRIM notice.
The TRIM rate is only one factor in how much you’ll pay in ad valorem taxes. The taxable valuation of your property is the starting point or rather the end point after exemptions are taken. Exemptions like homestead, widower, disability and veteran all effect the property’s taxable valuation that is the base against which the tax rate is applied. This is why it’s not as easy as saying you have a $200,000 house, therefore you will pay X amount of taxes. The local taxing district does not determine your exemptions; see the Property Appraiser for that. Start at leepa.org
With an improving economy, taxable values of real estate will go up. The Town’s total property value went up 2.22% this year: the Fire District’s is up 1.93%. This is the first increase since 2009. Remember that this is a good thing.
- Local districts are minor players on your tax bill. On 2012 taxes, mill rates shook out like this:
- 7.5840 School related taxes
- 3.6506 Lee County General
- 2.5500 FMB Fire District
- 0.7687 Town of FMB
- 0.5000 Lee County Lands Preservation
- 0.4289 SFL Water District
- 0.4999 FMB Library
- 0.1130 FMB Mosquito District
- 0.0394 West Coast Inland Navigation
- 0.0298 Lee County Hyacinth District
Lee County related taxes total over 4.1 mills. School taxes are over 7.5 mills. The four Fort Myers Beach districts together claimed less than 3.9 mills for residents in 2012. So when you’re thinking taxes, keep things in perspective.
Is there room for improvement? Always. Our local boards seem to think so as they chose to set TRIM rates at or below last year’s rates. Combined with residents eager for tax relief, there is bound to be some lively discussion this budget season. We urge everyone to learn as much as they can about the taxing districts and then participate in the budget process.
Your voice is important.