By Paul Burdziakowski
For Hometown News
The state House of Representatives voted 116-0 in favor of it. The state Senate gave a final approval of it with a 40-0 vote. A little more than 61 percent of Floridians voted in favor of it. Of the 12 amendments on the ballot back on Nov. 6, it was only one of three that passed. Still, Amendment 11, also known as the Florida Senior Homestead Tax Exemption, has yet to make much impact.
The amendment enabled the state legislature to authorize counties and municipalities to offer additional tax exemptions on the homes of low-income seniors. According to long time Port Orange resident John Thomas, many local governments are dragging their feet when it comes to the matter.
"This constitutional amendment appeared on the state's ballot because the state Legislature voted to put it before the voters," Mr. Thomas said. "It is now the local government's responsibility to put this into motion whether they approve or reject it."
At age 74, Mr. Thomas has resided in his Port Orange home for 25 years, meeting the homestead portion of the Amendment 11 tax exemption, but not the income requirement. When his wife retires from her job in a couple years, he has a good chance of qualifying and that is what makes Mr. Thomas such an avid supporter of Amendment 11. He has spent the last two weeks actively contacting city and county representatives to find out why this matter is not being addressed by cities in Volusia County, or by the county government.
"I'm willing to bet not one low income senior has been helped by this amendment yet, even though it passed over 6 months ago," Mr. Thomas said. "I believe the voters deserve an answer. The county people that I talked with seem to be giving me a run around like they want it to go away. They need to do their job and step up to the plate."
Mr. Thomas did, however, find Councilman Donald Burnette and the City of Port Orange to be extremely cooperative in their response to him.
"I'm in favor of Amendment 11," Councilman Burnette said. "While this matter affects a small segment of people in the community and has a minimal effect to the city's finances we have the ability to make a big impact on the poor. The plan is to get this topic on the agenda for the June 18 City Council meeting where the council can discuss it further."
Under Amendment 11 an additional homestead property tax exemption is given if a person has a legal or equitable title to a property, the homesteaded property has a market value less than $250,000, the property has been the permanent residence of the owner for at least 25 years, the owner is at least 65 years old, and the owner's household income does not exceed $27,590. The final requirement is the counties and municipalities providing the additional exemption must do so by passage of a local government ordinance.
While Lake County passed Amendment 11 in December, it was a different story in Marion County. Commissioners there voted 3 to 2 on Feb. 19 against implementing a property tax reduction for some senior citizens. That led to a heated County Commission meeting three months later on May 21 with several proponents of the amendment coming up to the podium to express their anger and frustration.
Advocates say seniors have every right to be upset over this matter because many of them live on fixed incomes and the tax exemption would go a long way in helping them with cost of living increases and medical bills.
This leaves the question of why so many state and local governments are delaying or rejecting the passage of Amendment 11. Could it be due to mounting budget shortfalls from diminished property tax returns or from the global economic downturn that seems to be affecting everyone these days?
"This amendment passed during a national election, and possibly left it overshadowed," Councilman Burnette said. "Most of these become law and don't require further local action. I think many municipalities were waiting on guidance from the state or the local property tax assessor's offices on how to implement, which never came. With other issues, it probably fell off of most people's radar."
When it comes to Port Orange, why have they waited this long to address the issue when Lake County approval it six months ago?
"I think with the many issues and challenges we faced in the past few months in our finance and water departments, as well as bringing on a new city manager and new finance director, our attention was diverted," Commissioner Burnett said. "Solving these issues took precedence, and it fell off our radar. As we are now working through these vital issues, we can start to pick up where we left off on things like this to move the city forward."