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Know before you vote: Amendment One

Rick Patrick: Greene Publishing, Inc.

This is the first of a series of articles that will appear in the Madison Enterprise-Recorder. Each article will examine one of the 13 proposed constitutional amendments that will be appearing on the Florida elections ballot on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. This week's article takes a look at Amendment 1.

Every 20 years, the Florida Constitution provides for the creation of a 37-member commission for the purpose of proposing changes to the Florida Constitution. This Constitutional Revision Commission (CRC) meets for approximately one year, crisscrossing the state, to receive input from citizens and interested parties, researching issues and possibly making recommendations for changes to the Florida Constitution. Members of the CRC are chosen as follows: 15 are appointed by the Governor of Florida, nine are appointed by the President of the Florida Senate, nine are appointed by the Speaker of the Florida House, three are appointed by the Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court, and the Florida Attorney General automatically serves on the Commission. The Governor designates the Chair of the CRC. The Commission votes on proposed amendments. Those amendments passing the Commission are placed on the general election ballot for voter approval. In order for a proposed amendment to become part of the Florida Constitution, it must receive approval from at least 60 percent of the voters.

One amendment making its way onto the ballot is Amendment One. This amendment, if passed, would alleviate the assessed property taxes on the portion of property valued at $100,000 to $125,000. This proposed exemption is also called the "Third Homestead Exemption." Currently, there is a full Homestead Exemption on the first $25,000 of assessed property value. There is no exemption on the value between $25,000 and $50,000. The "Second Exemption" is for the value between $50,000 and $75,000. There is no exemption on the value between $75,000 and $100,000. The proposed "Third Exemption" would exempt the value between $100,000 and $125,000.

What this means for homeowners is some could see a reduction in the amount on their property tax bill. Not everyone would see a decrease. Those whose property is valued at $98,000 would not see a decrease. Those whose property is valued at $102,000 would see a slight decrease of the amount of tax that would be due on $2,000. "[The Property Appraiser's] office, along with the Property Appraiser's Association of Florida, has created a what-if calculator to solve the question whether you will benefit if the amendment passes," said Leigh Barfield, Madison County Property Appraiser. The estimator can be found at www.madisonpa.com under the tab labeled, "News Update." "We want Madison County residents who are homesteaded to see for themselves how the proposal would affect them," said Barfield. "When our taxpayers/voters go to the polls in November, we want them to be knowledgeable on this amendment and whether it will save them tax dollars."

On its surface, it may seem that a reduction in taxes would be an easy idea to support. However, just as with anything, it can be a dual-edged sword. "Everyone wants lower taxes, but no one wants to cut services. Sometimes it becomes necessary to cut services. Will that be ball fields? Will that be senior citizen services? Will that be law enforcement?" said Madison County Coordinator, Brian Kauffman. The previous time homestead exemptions were cut the State offset losses with "fiscally constrained" funds. This was to help small counties, such as Madison County. Those funds do help offset the loss of ad valorem revenues, but those fiscally constrained funds are not guaranteed. During any budget year, those funds could be withdrawn at the will of the state legislature. For that reason, local officials have been reluctant to use those funds to pay for more permanent budget items, such as payroll for employees. If Amendment One passes and the legislature doesn't expand the fiscally constrained funds, Madison County "may have to depend on the existing fiscally constrained dollars for jobs," said Kauffman.

If Amendment One does pass and become law, it will likely mean difficult decisions for County Commissioners and belt-tightening for all departments of county government. "It is my belief that it will require some work and hard decisions by the commissioners and the constitutional officers to determine which services are essential and to balance the county's budget with the anticipated shortfall in revenue from the passage of this amendment," said Madison County Clerk of Courts and County Comptroller Billy Washington. According to estimates provided by Barfield, the impact in terms of lost revenue to local governments could be as much as $150,000 for Madison County, $8,903 for the City of Madison, $1,188 for the Town of Lee and $511 for the Town of Greenville. If passed, the amendment would take effect Jan 1, 2019.

As with any issue, it would be wise for voters to carefully weigh both sides of this amendment and then make the wisest choice.

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