Property owners in Flagler County and its cities last week started getting their TRIM notice in the mail–the so-called Truth in Millage notice that outlines all proposed tax rates from every taxing authority that affects local property owners. The notices can feel at times like sticker shock, with rates seemingly much higher than previous-year rates. Often, the numbers are not as dire as feared or as they seem, particularly when a tax bill is looked at whole rather than in its various parts. This year is no different.
Most property taxpayers will see some increase in their bill, but for homesteaded property owners, the increase will be driven more by appreciating values than by higher tax rates. Non-homesteaded property owners will see steeper increases, but even then, the increases will be less than catastrophic.
That’s assuming that the proposed rates in your TRIM notice will hold. In most cases, they will: Flagler County government signaled that it would approve the higher rate it’s proposing, which would result in a small increase. Bunnell is unlikely to go lower than the rate it is proposing, which adopts the rolled-back rate and in effect amounts to a tax decrease for property owners, when appreciation is out of the picture. The school board’s tax rate will not change: it’s set by state legislators, and it reflects a small decrease.
Flagler Beach’s rate looks like the biggest jump among all local taxing authorities, going from $5.36 to $6.5 per $1,000 in taxable value. But that figure is already out of date: at their first budget hearing on July 27, Flagler Beach commissioners lowered the rate to $5.46, and could go yet lower. Last year’s rate was $5.36.
All local governments will be approving next year’s permanent property tax rates at public hearings scheduled in the first two weeks of September. Those hearings typically draw very few people and are over quickly.
The most useful way to look at your tax bill is through its bottom line. Taking appreciation out of the picture, most residential tax bills in the median range (homes valued at $175,000) will see either small tax increases or small tax decreases, except in Bunnell, where the decrease will be steeper.
In Palm Coast, a house valued at $175,000 and with a $50,000 homestead exemption will see an overall decrease of $8 when only tax rates are applied, but an increase of around $68 when a 3 percent increase in home value is included. All homesteaded properties’ appreciated value are capped at 3 percent a year with regards to tax assessments.
In other words, politicians who set the tax rate are responsible for the $8 decrease. Appreciation is doing the rest.
That’s in the aggregate. It doesn’t mean that, say, Palm Coast and Flagler County politicians are decreasing taxes. They’re not: they’re increasing tax rates, if only marginally. But when those rates are combined with the school tax rate, which is going down, with the county’s capital improvement rate, which is also going down, the Water Management District tax rate, Mosquito Control and Inland Navigation, the sum total is less burdensome than it would otherwise have been.
Businesses won’t have it as easy, since they’re not homesteaded. But even tax increases on commercial property won’t be that steep.
Take Walmart in Palm Coast: that property owed $154,031 this year (it paid $147,870, reflecting a discount for paying early.) Its bill would have actually declined slightly had it not been for appreciation. But it was assessed at $7.87 million this year, appreciating by $403,000 year-over-year–better than most houses’ total cost in the county. Even though that’s still just a 5.4 percent increase, the appreciation cost alone will result in a tax increase of $8,211.
This being an election season, some misinformation–or mis-representation of the facts–is also being circulated about what politicians are and are not responsible for, when it comes to taxes.
One example stands out: the charge that County Commissioner Nate McLaughlin, first elected in 2010, has raised taxes every year he’s been in office, for a total of 54 percent. The charge is being made by an obscure Facebook page called “Flagler Politics” with either direct ties or sympathies with McLaughlin’s opponent, Joe Mullins, whose relationship with the truth has been tenuous in various instances documented by The Observer and FlaglerLive.
The charge is almost accurate on its face, but it misrepresents the facts by preying on most taxpayers’ common misunderstanding–and one that Property Appraiser Jay Gardner takes pains to counter every year around this time: that tax rates have much to do with what property owners actually pay in taxes. They don’t–not when valuations have a disproportionate effect on increases or decreases in your tax bill, as is the case this year. The McLaughlin case is illustrative.
When he took office in 2010, the county’s general fund tax rate–the one rate county commissioners are responsible for–stood at $5.5337 per $1,000 in assessed value. The proposed rate is $8.3425 which, if adopted, will have resulted in a 50.7 percent increase in those eight years. That’s a serious increase, placing the county’s general-fund tax rate within reach of the maximum 10 mills allowed under state law. It is unquestionably the highest tax rate of any taxing authority in the county except Marineland, which has only a handful of taxpayers. It is a higher tax rate than Bunnell’s, long the perennial (but no longer) title holder as having the county’s steepest tax rate.
But has anyone’s actual tax bill increased 50 percent in those eight years? Not exactly. Even a commercial behemoth such as Walmart, without a homestead exemption or any exemption of any sort, has seen its bottom-line tax bill decrease: in 2009, Walmart paid $168,025, total, of which $48,763 was in county, general-fund taxes. This year, it was billed $154,031, as noted above (but paid less), of which the county’s share was $60,574–an increase, to be sure, but of 24 percent.
Take a homesteaded property–the 2,600-square-foot home of Commissioner Greg Hansen, for example, on Coleridge Court in Palm Coast. In 2009, the Hansens were billed $4,412 in total taxes, of which $1,175 was for the county’s general fund. This year? $3,784 in total taxes–a decrease when compared to 2009. County taxes this year: $1,503, or a 28 percent increase. That’s not a small increase, particularly when compared to other governments doing a much better job of holding the line on taxes, and becoming leaner operations as a result, but it’s not quite in the 54 percent range.
Still, for all its exaggeration, the claim against McLaughlin reflects a trend in county taxes unseen among other taxing authorities locally even if, overall, taxpayers have not seen a significant increase in their bottom-line tax bills: when inflation is taken into account, those tax bills’ increases are even more negligible.
Proposed Property Tax Rates for 2018-19 for Residents in Flagler County, Palm Coast, Flagler Beach and Bunnell, on a $175,000 House with a $50,000 Homestead Exemption.
|Flagler County School Board|
|County Debt and Sensitive Land Levies|
|St. Johns River Water Management District|
|Florida Inland Navigation District|
|Total: What All County Residents Pay*|
|Palm Coast Residents|
|Flagler Beach Residents|
|Beverly Beach Residents|
(*) For residents of west Flagler, the mosquito control tax does not apply. For city residents, the total rate from countywide taxes is added to the city rate for a final tax bill total.
(**) For a definition of the roll-back rate, go here.
(***) The tax bill is calculated on a median-priced house of $175,000, with the assumption that the house has a $50,000 homestead exemption. So its taxable value would be $125,000 in 2017, or $150,000 when calculating school taxes. The tax bill figures for municipalities represent the aggregate of all school, countywide and district taxes in addition to the municipal tax bill in each respective city.
(****) The taxable value and the tax bill increases or decreases do not take into account the increased or decreased value of a property. Values have appreciated between 5 and 8 percent across the county, which would affect tax bills accordingly, with a 3 percent capped increase on assessments of homesteaded properties.
Sources: Flagler County Property Appraiser and local governments.