Palm Coast set its tentative tax rate for 2015 two weeks ago. The Flagler County Commission set its rate this afternoon. The Flagler County School Board will do so in late afternoon. Combined, and along with the small tax rate imposed by the St. Johns River Water Management District, which virtually all property owners in Flagler pay, the four rates add up to the tax bill some 75 percent of residents pay.
And together, those tax four rates would fall slightly, though barely, next year, to $20.5926 per $1,000 in taxable value, from $20.6138 currently. For a $175,000 house with a homestead tax exemption of $50,000, that works out to a tax bill of $2,574, a saving of $2 from the current rate.
That’s assuming that the value of your property remained flat. In some cases, it has. But property values have begun to creep up just a little: overall in the county, values went up 5.46 percent, including a 5.57 percent increase in Palm Coast, 5 percent in the county, 6.48 percent in Flagler Beach, 6.76 percent in Beverly Beach, 1 percent increase in Bunnell, and a decrease of 0.56 percent in Marineland.
For most property owners, in other words, values have increased by about 5 percent.
According to Florida law, if the tax rate stays the same but average property values increase, that works out to a tax increase. So in essence property owners on average are likely to pay somewhere in the range of 5 percent more in property taxes this year than last, since none of the local governments are adopting the so-called rolled-back rate—the tax rate that would collect the same amount next year as the government collected this year. For the rolled-back rate to apply, the local governments would have had to discount the property value increases, but also take a slight cut in revenue.
With severe needs accumulating during the lean years of the Great Recession and since, local governments feel they cannot afford keeping revenue flat, as that would deepen the deficit of needs they’re facing, from infrastructure improvements to expansions and upgrades of such things as fire and police services. In Flagler County, the fire department plans on adding three firefighters and building a new fire station on the west side.
Still, the bottom line this coming year will be a relatively small, when it comes to tax bills, especially when inflation is taken into account: if you live in palm Coast and your tax bill was in the $2,500 range this year, you may end up paying about $125 more next year, if your property value increased by about 5 percent, and you include the taxes from Palm Coast, the county, the school board and the water management district. There’s also the East Flagler Mosquito Control tax and the Florida Inland Navigation District tax. Those combine for an additional $35 on most homes, an amount not expected to change next year. All those figures are for annual tax bills.
And those tentative tax rates may yet fall lower: Palm Coast and the county set their tentative rates at the maximum possible level. They can—and often do—still chip away at their respective rates between now and the September tax hearings when the final rates are adopted.
On July 10, Palm Coast set its maximum rate at $4.2705 per $1,000, the same rate in effect this year. Tuesday afternoon, the County Commission set its rate at $8.5597 per $1,000 in taxable value. That rate includes the $0.5847 rate that voters approved in order to fund the county’s Environmentally Sensitive Lands program. The county’s rate is barely different than the existing rate of 8.5753.
Later this afternoon, the Flagler County School Board is expected to approve an overall tax rate of $7.446 per $1,000, itself barely different than the existing rate of $7.442. The school board’s rate remains significantly lower than the $8.031 rate of 2012. (See a full breakdown of school taxes, as presented to the School Board this afternoon, here.)
To call those the school board’s rates, however, is a misnomer. The local school board has no power in setting its own taxes. Those are set by the Legislature. The board attempted to add a 50-cent-per-$1,000 property levy last summer, for its “critical operating needs,” but voters decisively rejected that initiative. That left three separate tax categories of taxes that the state sets: the “required local effort” rate of $5.1980 per $1,000, the “discretionary” rate of $0.748, and the capital outlay (or construction and repairs) rate of $1.5 per $1,000.
In total, the proposed rate is expected to raise $53.1 million for the school board, $10.7 million of it devoted to construction and repairs. The total tax rate exceeds the rolled-back rate by 5.45 percent.
The calculations—again, set by the state, not the local school board—assume a student population decreasing 0.6 percent this year, to 12,444. The district ended last year with a population of 12,513, a 0.7 percent decrease–and the fourth decrease in a row. The district’s population peaked at 12,975 in 2010. But today’s figure masks another loss: the 1,000 students who are counted in the district’s figures, but who are actually attending one of the district’s two charter schools. Charter schools are private schools run with public money, channeled through the district.