TAX WATCH NEWSLETTER OCTOBER 2015

TAXES TROJAN HORSE

It's that time again for the Charlotte County Commission to pass the budget for the next two years. The posturing has already begun. The headlines are WE WILL PROBABLY NOT RAISE THE MILLAGE RATE FOR PROPERTY TAXES. As a sound bite that sounds great, but if you looked at your recent trim notice your proposed total tax bill probably increased.

Mr. Polk, the county property appraiser, has stated the valuation of all property in Charlotte County has increased over 5% from last year's evaluation. So if the property tax millage rate stays unchanged, the county will realize a 5% increase in revenue from property taxes. This equates to millions more in expected revenue collections.

BUT WAIT! Such statement is only the tip of the iceberg because M.S.T.U and M.S.B.U rates are also increasing, and in some cases substantially. These taxes, which is in addition to your property tax millage rate, will generate about $124 million dollars representing about 19% of the total 2015-2016 FY. net budget. The total expenditures being proposed for the 2016 budget aggregate $979 million dollars, which is an increase of $64 million over the 2015 budget. Note, however, that we are getting close to that BILLION DOLLAR BUDGET MARK AGAIN, which existed just before onset of the Great Recession in 2008.

Throw in the county Sales Tax---Gas tax---Franchise Fee tax---and the other miscellaneous fees and taxes you pay every day and then you can readily see that the proposed stable property tax millage rate in 2016 is not the good deal the county government wants you to believe it is.

I am sure none of the five Commissioners nor the County Administrator has given any consideration to reducing the property tax millage rate or paying down the existing Murdock Village debt principal with this expected multi-million dollar tax collection windfall will provide. No, the windfall will be used to continue to build the county government's bureaucracy (county government has been hiring and will continue to hire more people under inflated compensation packages), and finance more unnecessary pet projects providing little benefit for the average Charlotte County taxpayer.

 If you believe you deserve a break from such excessive taxation, just remember the 2016 election is upcoming and there will be on the ballot three commission seats up for decision. Before you pick your candidate choices, closely evaluate their demeanor, voting record, if available, and whether their campaign promises are necessary and realistic. Be sure the candidates will reduce unnecessary spending, which is currently plentiful, and then promise to reduce your tax bill when expenditures are under control. Submitted by Bob Starr COUNTY ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT- SHOULD YOUR LOCAL TAX DOLLARS BE USED? County Economic Development Objectives are: Attract light, clean industry bringing to the area good paying jobs. These are the buzz words politicians and government bureaucrats use to justify expenditures of tax dollars in an attempt to attract business and development to the local area. Growth in Charlotte County has for decades been fueled by construction. Homes were built for and purchased by retirees, who want accesses to our great weather, beaches, harbor, central location and other great nature amenities.

Also, many others are seeking a place to go to get away from winter's northern cold. These purchases and re-locations created the demand for new jobs in the our local labor market and service industries. Charlotte County government has in the past failed to create jobs from outside of this traditional growth pattern. The biggest past effort was Murdock Village. Although this expansion venture was not really a departure from the traditional development in our community, the sheer scope of the project, if successful, would have had significant economic impact on Charlotte County. In the mid-2000 decade, the county acquired almost 1,000 acres at a cost of over $100 million. As we now know, county government's plan for MV has been a failure.

Over the past 10 years, the cost to taxpayers has increased to over $135 million (with no revenue income generated to date), as county taxpayers have paid out millions in interest and other allied expenses plus hundreds of thousands of dollars have been lost in property tax revenue, which would have been collected from homes and lots purchased by the county if such properties had not been taken off the tax rolls. Could a private developer have made this project a success? Probably not, for I doubt any developer would have invested hundreds of millions in a plan that was designed to fail--especially after real estate values began plunging in 2007. One huge success for Charlotte County has been the Cheney Brothers Inc.'s multi-million dollar investment in a trucking/warehouse facility located off Interstate 75.

Here is an example of how to do economic development correctly. Cheney Brothers found in Charlotte County an ideal location for expansion and decided to locate here through the direct efforts of local businessmen, mainly Bruce Lashley. This operation will employ hundreds of local residents in high paying jobs. The landing of this significant new business happened without Charlotte offering millions of dollars in relocation incentives. When Cheney Brothers made its decision, the Charlotte's Economic Development Department did not have a Director.

This economic development example was a win win for Charlotte County created by a group of private sector participants not even considering the use of taxpayer money to fund the deal. If you read the Charlotte Sun and follow Facebook you will have recently seen the beginnings of another county-led Economic Development proposal. The Economic Development Department has been negotiating with Western Michigan University for about 10 months for the university to move its educational/flight training school program from Michigan to Charlotte County; a great concept/ opportunity for both sides of the transaction. However, the county's Economic Director is proposing the county purchase the waterfront IMPAC buildings in Punta Gorda and renovate it to provide the required classroom facilities.

Per the Economic Director's admission, the estimated cost of IMPAC is over $10,000,000 million dollars plus the county would lose the over $50,000/year of tax revenue being paid by the current private owner. This TEN MILLION DOLLARS+ OF YOUR TAXES would be only the beginning given additional county expenditures would also be required to finalize the transaction. You may remember a few years ago that the Director proposed the county purchase and renovate the IMPAC buildings at about half of the current cost estimate. In that instance, the facilities would be operated as a small business incubator. Public outcry and a rejection by the Commissioners rightfully stopped that proposal. A group of concerned citizens recently sent a letter to each of the Western Michigan University Trustees encouraging the university to relocate their flight training school in Charlotte County with one caveat. They cited to the Trustees their strong opposition to Charlotte County Tax Payer funds being used to purchase and bring IMPAC buildings up to standard for WMU pilot educational classrooms.

Instead they suggested the business community unite and provide private sector funding for the project. This letter subsequently caused quite an uproar in county government and in the local media. Following are some of the arrows thrown at the position taken by these taxpayers in the letter. How dare citizens express their opinion (as to how their taxpayer money is spent on economic development efforts). This is just a few people, who do not represent the majority in Charlotte County. Have you gone completely off your rocker. I do not want to be associated with citizens for growth which makes phony representations creating a lack of credibility. If you can't take the heat get out of the public arena.

I believe the people of Charlotte County are tired of their tax dollars being wasted on purported economic development projects, which have no demonstrable return for the tax dollars invested. The terms of any agreement arrived at by Charlotte and WMU will have to be approved by the five Commissioners, including any purchase/renovation of the IMPAC buildings. So if you remember how badly Murdock Village has turned out, call or email your Commissioners and tell them to let the private business community take over the lead on this project. Submitted by Bob Starr CHARTER REVIEW COMMISSION If you missed our last quarterly newsletter, we discussed the function of the new Charter Review Commission.

The committee members, appointed by the county commission, are empowered to recommend changes to the County Charter. Any changes developed and approved by the C.R.C. are then sent to the county commission for placement on the 2016 General Election Ballot. If the voters approve any changes, those approved then become law. One change that should be strongly considered is a change in the system of how Municipal Service Benefit Units and Municipal Service Taxing Units (M.S.B.U and M.S.T.U special taxing assessments are established and approved. Charlotte is ranked number one of the 67 Florida counties in the use of B.U.'s and T.U.'s to fund defined projects. 

This process represents a circumvention of the property tax system, which enables Charlotte County government to avoid the 10 millage rate cap established by the Florida Legislature. Charlotte has a 6.3 millage rate within the 10 mill cap. But, the county significantly exceeds this maximum rate by creating the above mentioned "SPECIAL ASSESSMENTS" to fund many of the functions provided by other counties from their property tax revenue e. g. maintaining and repairing roads, law enforcement, fire E.M.S, etc. In effect Charlotte County exceeds the 10 mill cap by a significant amount. The City of Punta Gorda with a millage rate for 3.6 mills provides paving, law enforcement, fire protection and many other services that are not included in the county's property tax rate.

These special assessments are created solely by the 5 County Commissioners, who have the power to decide the rates to be charged even if public hearings held in the affected areas disclose little or no support for the project. Many counties put proposed special assessments on the ballot, but not Charlotte County. There are about 60 existing special assessments units, which account for ONE HUNDRED AND TWENTY THREE MILLION DOLLARS annually. These units do not sunset. Churches in Charlotte County pay thousands of dollars in special assessments. Churches in Punta Gorda and churches in most of the other 66 counties PAY NO TAX.

If you believe, as I do, taxpayers should have a voice in the way they are taxed, contact a member of the Charter Review Commission (members are listed on the county web site) and tell them you would like to see a charter change on the 2016 General Election Ballot that states "all Municipal Special Taxing Units and Municipal Special Benefit Units proposed by the Charlotte County Commission or requested by residents in an area be placed on the ballot to be voted on by the property owners affected"; plus all Municipal Special Taxing Units and all Municipal Special Benefit Units currently in effect shall be put on the 2018 General Election Ballot for approval by the voters.

THIS IS YOUR CHANCE TO MAKE A DIFFERENCE CONTACT A CHARTER REVIEW MEMBER TODAY. Submitted by Bob Starr Visit our web site at www.charlottecountytax.org or our Facebook page Email: info@charlottecountytax.org

Web: www.charlottecountytax.org