State Politics

Tax break for working waterfronts still unclear

MANATEE — Florida voters were clear in November 2008 when they overwhelmingly approved Amendment 6.

Now, one month from when the tax break for working waterfront property is to be implemented, legislators and property appraisers are in the dark about how to assess such properties.

The constitutional amendment, which passed with 71 percent of the vote, said working waterfront property would be assessed on its current use starting Jan. 1. Currently, waterfront property is taxed on its current and best use, usually a higher tax rate. But the Florida Senate and House of Representatives couldn’t agree on how to determine the current use value of qualifying properties.

The Legislature will take that issue up again in March, meaning property appraisers won’t know what the tax breaks are for owners of commercial fisheries, marinas, dry stacks and marine manufacturing facilities until July.

Properties must file for a working waterfront classification with the property appraiser before March 1. The classification is given to those properties that are dependent on the water for their business.

“We’re supposed to implement something for which there’s no law that tells us how to do it,” said Charles Hackney, property appraiser for Manatee County.

Bob Gertz, owner of Parrot Cove Marina in Bradenton, said he is disappointed he will have to wait longer to see what his property tax savings will be under Amendment 6.

“It would be nice if they did do something on it, anything would help right now with the way the economy is,” Gertz said. “The fact it would also help me budget for the future would be good, too.”

Karen Bell, owner of A.P. Bell Fish Co. in Cortez, also said the sooner business owners can find out their tax break the better.

“It’s definitely a concern, but we’ll just have to wait for now,” Bell said. “As long as it’s moving along.”

The Senate and House this year had two different plans on how to determine current use value of working waterfront properties.

The Senate detailed a specific formula for property appraisers to follow, while the House opted to rely on the property appraiser’s professional judgment to assess its current use value.

Both the Senate and House’s bill died in the session.

Calls to Sen. Mike Bennett and Rep. Ron Reagan were not returned Thursday.

Keyna Cory, chief lobbyist for the Associated Industries of Florida, said the Senate and House each felt the other’s method wouldn’t properly calculate the current use value.

“This legislative session property appraisers will get a clear method of how to appraise these properties,” Cory said.

For the 2010 legislative session, there is an identical bill in both the House and Senate addressing working waterfront property. The bill states “the assessed value shall be calculated using the income approach to value, and using a capitalization rate based upon the debt coverage ratio formula.” But if that method isn’t appropriate, the bill states the property appraiser will take into consideration the condition, present market value and income generated at the property to determine a value.

“It would be best for the property appraisers to wait until the session is over before assessing working waterfront property,” Cory said. “Once legislators get this in place they’ll be able to figure out how to assess the properties.”