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Public Service Tax

On Monday January 7, 2013, the Board of County Commissioners had an opportunity to eliminate the Public Service Tax paid by our citizens.  I am not opposed to reducing or eliminating this tax, however, I made the decision that I would not support this action, at this time.  I did not make this decision because I am now against reducing taxes.  I am very much in favor of reducing taxes and I am certain that I was elected because the majority of our citizens expect me to do so.  As a County Commissioner, I believe I have an obligation to gather and consider all of the facts before making decisions to allow me to fully understand the impact of those decisions and the cost that will be placed on our citizens.

I don’t think I have ever met a single person who likes to pay taxes and I’m certain that no one wants their hard earned tax dollars wasted.  While none of us like paying taxes, almost everyone tells me they don’t mind paying their “fair share”.  I have spent a lot of time analyzing county taxes in an attempt to understand the best way to determine how much money is required for a tax payer to pay their fair share.  While each of us has different ideas of county services that are important to us, I think most of us can agree that the vast majority of tax payer’s dollars are spent on basic services that we all use, or have access to, when we need them.  The largest source of funds that pay for these services comes from the ad-valorem tax that is assessed against our properties.  Since this is the largest source of local taxes, it only makes since to look there, if we want to find ways to make cuts.  This is what I discovered.  In Wakulla County, there are currently 23,547 non-government parcels that are subject to taxation.  Our previous Board of County Commissioners established a millage rate for the taxes on these parcels at 8.5 mills.  That means, you and I are assessed a tax of $8.50 for every $1,000 of taxable value.  This tax currently generates slightly more than 8 million dollars to the tax role.  If we divide this amount by the 23,547 parcels, it’s easy to see that the average parcel is generating $343.00 per year in ad-valorem property tax.  This does not include the assessment for Fire Services or for Garbage Services.  This also does not include the taxes assessed against your property by the school board.  Upon further investigation, I discovered that 1,047 parcels are exempt from paying ad-valorem taxes and do not contribute $1 a year toward basic county services.  16,436 parcels contribute less than the average $343 a year toward basic county services.  That leaves 7,111 parcels that are currently paying more than $343 a year.  Many of these citizens are paying several times the average amount.    We can see from the numbers that 30% of property owners in Wakulla County are paying the vast majority of taxes collected in our county.  70% are paying less than the average amount.  Please don’t misunderstand me.  I’m not saying that those who are paying less than average are doing anything wrong.  Their property value and any exemptions they are eligible for creates this situation, based on the current system established by the State of Florida.  Even though it may be legal, the fact remains that everyone has access to the same basic services and 30% of the population is paying the majority of the cost.

Let’s go back to my statement that everyone tells me they are willing to pay their fair share.  I believe this statement is true and I haven’t found anyone who says they expect their neighbors to foot the bill for them.  Given the inherent disparity that exists in our current ad-valorem system, I believe that I have an obligation to apply any available tax cuts toward this system first.  If we cut the Public Service Tax and ignore the property tax, we are making a decision to place an additional tax burden on the backs of citizens who are already paying more than their fair share.  I understand that we can never completely eliminate this disparity, but we have an obligation to the citizens of Wakulla County to minimize this unfair system of taxation.  After we reduce the ad-valorem tax, the Public Service Tax would then become my number one target for additional reductions.  I am fully aware that I will not make everyone happy with my decisions all of the time but I do hope everyone will agree that I will always make every effort to be fair all of the time and my decisions will always be based on facts.

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