Hurricane Irma could delay some Florida taxpayers’ voices from being heard.
It’s an unavoidable case of timing. The powerful hurricane bore down on the state as cities, counties, school boards and other taxing bodies were scheduling two public hearings required by law before they can set property tax rates for the new fiscal year. The hearings are usually held in September. (The fiscal year for local governments begins on Oct. 1, and the state fiscal year begins July 1).
The executive director of the state Department of Revenue, Leon Biegalski, issued an order on Sept. 6, temporarily waiving the timing requirement for local taxing authorities to hold public hearings. The directive was based on Gov. Rick Scott’s Sept. 4 executive order that declared a statewide emergency in Florida in advance of Hurricane Irma’s arrival.
The public hearings still must be held, but can be held later than usual, and the usual notice requirements for newspaper ads remain in effect.
Biegalski’s order reads in part: “The Department, in the interest of public safety, hereby waives the timing compliance requirements of the following statutes and rules to the extent necessary to meet the emergency declared in EO 17-235 (Scott‘s executive order) and provides additional specific requirements with respect to local taxing authorities holding their millage and budget hearings to ensure consistent adequate notice is provided to taxpayers.”
The order states that all taxing bodies must reschedule their hearings within 30 days of the issuance of Scott’s order or by Oct. 4 “unless otherwise extended by the Department.”
The Department of Revenue said it issued a similar waiver after Hurricane Ike in 2008.
Despite the statewide waiver, it appears that a number of taxing bodies will hold the tax rate hearings as scheduled. For example, Pinellas’ first budget hearing is set for Thursday. Hard-hit Lee County (Fort Myers) still lists its second tax rate hearing for Sept. 19.
Manatee County will still hold its budget hearings on Monday from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. and Sept. 25 from 6:30 p.m. to 9:30 p.m. at the Manatee County Administrative Building.
Herald staff writer Hannah Morse contributed to this report.
Contact Steve Bousquet at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow @stevebousquet.