Property tax breaks, possible service cuts at center of Constitutional amendment debate

Will Florida voters cut property taxes?

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - As Florida continues to recover from a sluggish housing market, voters will decide in November whether to amend the state Constitution to extend property tax breaks to thousands of homeowners.

Of the 11 proposed Constitutional amendments , one -- Amendment 4 -- would give first-time buyers, owners of rental properties and part-time residents a tax break of roughly half the market value of their home.

"The changes in the market have provided [an] opportunity for me to step in there to buy the house that I always wanted but could never afford in the past," said Dennis MacDonald, a first-time home buyer and Royal Palm Beach resident.

Other amendments would give seniors and veterans tax breaks.

Critics said -- together -- the amendments would cut the taxes local governments collect.

"If you're not the person getting the benefit -- the lower value -- you're the person having to pay for it by virtue of a higher tax rate," said Gary Nikolits, Palm Beach County Property Appraiser. "That's exactly how exemptions work … it transfers the benefits from one person into a cost for somebody else."

Nikolits has not taken a position on the amendments but said some local governments would have to cut services or raise taxes to absorb the impact of the property tax breaks.

Palm Beach County would lose about $150 million in property taxes over four years, according to one estimate.

"First-time home buyers are so important to our market because they're the ones that really need to be out there buying these distressed properties," said Dionna Hall, a senior vice president at the Realtors Association of the Palm Beaches.

Hall, who supports Amendment 4, said the tax breaks would raise the values of homes across Florida.

Florida TaxWatch , a non-partisan taxpayer research institute, said amendments such as Amendment 4 would create nineteen thousand jobs and help Floridians keep billions of dollars of income.


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