Homestead exemption vote hangs over Jacksonville city budget talks

Jacksonville, FL — As Jacksonville's City Council begins to dive in to the $1.2 billion proposed City budget for the upcoming fiscal year, an issue that could impact the FY2019-2020 budget is already looming over talks.

Florida voters will decide in November whether to add a new homestead exemption that would save homeowners on their home value between $100,000 and $125,000. While this would give qualifying homeowners a break of up to a few hundred dollars on their property tax bill each year, it would therefore mean less that the City is collecting each year. In Jacksonville, it's believed that could be a hole of about $27 million in FY2019-2020, if the measure passes.

“We will probably be able to absorb the $27 million homestead exemption and still have growth, but what we won’t be able to do is increase anything. And some of the things that we are doing this year will really demand increased support next year,” says City Councilwoman and Finance Committee member Lori Boyer.

Boyer is looking at the big capital improvements package pitched by Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, in his FY2018-2019 budget proposal that was recently released. She says there is a need for an investment that big, because of years that Jacksonville got behind on investing, when the budget was tight.

“All that does is barely hold you own on keeping potholes filled and sidewalk cracks repaired. I mean, it is just bare bones maintenance, and it is not investing in anything new,” she says.

But with the projects that have been put forward comes the need for support in future years- inspectors, people to manage contracts, other support staff, and more.

Curry says his office has been planning ahead for the possibility of the new homestead exemption, and he’s says he can continue to present budget proposals that don’t raise the property tax rate- although he didn’t specifically say how they would accommodate it.

“We’re prepared for next year, and I’m confident, I’m sure that we’ll be able to do what we need to do for the people of Jacksonville without raising taxes,” Curry said, after his budget proposal presentation.

His latest proposal keeps the property tax rate steady, although increasing property values and new construction in Duval County means what you’re paying will still go up. The City Council Finance Committee sided with Curry for the upcoming year in not raising taxes.

“I do believe that you let taxpayers keep their own funds when we don’t need them. You know, I’m a believer in the idea that- let my individual citizens decide how they want to spend their money, and it’s only when government needs them to provide services, that we ask,” Boyer says.

But Boyer cautioned that, while a hike may not be needed right now, it’s not something she can definitively rule out if the new homestead exemption passes. Finance Chair Greg Anderson- who leads this year’s budget scrutiny in the Council- says that is something that will be hanging over their review, at some level.

“That [the new exemption] would significantly impact the revenue that our City has to allocate, and that would impact areas like public safety and libraries and parks,” Anderson says.

The Finance Committee will spend the coming weeks going through the Mayor’s budget proposal. Anderson says he’ll be looking for the fiscal soundness of the proposal, as well as the priorities of the spending plan.

WOKV continues to work through the budget proposal. We will bring you insight on how your tax dollars are being spent, as that review takes place.

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