Official Wants Lower Property Taxes; County Finishing Work on Budget

Article excerpt

Byline: Drew Dixon, Shorelines staff writer

Even if St. Johns County Commissioner Bruce Maguire succeeds in finding alternatives to increased property taxes, it won't happen in time for the upcoming fiscal year.

Seeking to relieve homeowners in the Ponte Vedra Beach and Palm Valley area from increasing property tax rates, Maguire has requested a detailed analysis of all county revenue sources.

"We need a review of the entire revenue structure of the county," Maguire said. "That means all the taxes, all the fees and how we bring in money with specific focus on reducing [property] taxes."

Maguire's demand of staff comes at an awkward time, as county workers are working on the final phases of the proposed 2003-04 budget.

The review "is going to be detailed and it's not going to be done overnight" said Joe Vonasek, county director of management and budget. "It's going to take 60 to 90 days."

Vonasek said he and his staff won't be able to get to the analysis until after the budget process is complete in October.

Maguire said he wants the review along with possible alternatives to property taxes, in part because of a proposed tax hike due mainly to an increase in the cost of county-wide firefighting.

"I think the fire district issue helped bring it to light for some people," he said. "But it was something last summer during the [election] campaign that I had mentioned and I'm trying to follow up."

Maguire said that when there's a property tax rate increase, the residents in his district in the northern portion of the county end up paying the most because their higher property value assessments.

"Ponte Vedra and even Julington Creek in that area now, pay an overloaded proportionate share of taxes," Maguire said

The current county budget includes $6.76 million for firefighting. The proposed 2003-04 budget calls for about $13 million.

Next year's proposed county budget, which still is subject to public hearings and final commission approval before implementation Oct. 1, totals $298.04 million while the aggregate property tax rate is proposed to increase from $6.66 for every $1,000 of assessed property value to $7.066, meaning a homeowner with property valued at $200,000 would pay $1,413 in property taxes.

Maguire wants staff to analyze everything to prevent that kind of property tax rate increase from happening again. "I want them to analyze every revenue source that we have in terms of taxes, I don't mean the little things like a $25 permit fee," he said. …