Manatee Commission: Proposed tax break contains loopholes

skennedy@bradenton.comAugust 28, 2013 

MANATEE -- The Manatee County Commission Tuesday balked at a draft ordinance to give an additional homestead exemption from property taxes to long-term, low-income seniors.

Some commissioners objected the proposal contained too many loopholes.

The commission voted unanimously to put the topic on its legislative agenda for next year in hopes lawmakers would revise the local option measure to close loopholes and reduce the chance of fraud.

"I do believe we have a lot of seniors out there that need this, but the way it's written right now, I can't see doing this for a senior out there that's got $5 million worth of assets," said Commissioner Vanessa Baugh. "I think the public would question what we're thinking."

Commissioner Betsy Benac said she was uncomfortable with the proposal because she thought it was "tipping the balance" of fairness to everyone.

County Administrator Ed Hunzeker suggested seeking legislative fixes, saying, "It's just subject to abuse."

Last month, the commission asked the Manatee County Attorney's Office to draft an ordinance after voters OK'd a new constitutional amendment on the subject in 2012.

The constitutional amendment provided local governments the option of adopting an additional or alternative exemption covering the entire assessed value of homestead property, up to $250,000 of its fair market value, officials said.

To qualify, a person would have to be 65 years or older, qualified for a homestead exemption at a permanent residence in the same home for at least 25 years, and earned less than $27,590 in IRS-adjusted gross household income in 2012, they said.

The measure would not require home ownership, just occupation of a primary residence for 25 years, said Scott Tussing, exemption and compliance administrator for the Manatee County Property Appraiser's Office.

The home could also be a duplex worth $400,000, for instance, said Rob Eschenfelder of the county attorney's office.

"We can't tell who's going to qualify," Tussing said after the meeting at County Administrative Center. "We can't predict to the county how much money it would cost."

The city of Longboat Key adopted a similar measure and just one taxpayer qualified, said Tussing.

Edith Morse, whose home is worth $198,574, won't pay any city taxes, said Tussing. If the county had adopted the draft ordinance, she would have also skipped county taxes estimated at $489.81, paying just school board and independent district taxes, he said.

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