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TBT Editorial: Stormwater Fees Could Bring a Big Hidden Tax

Published Sunday, January 20, 2013 12:10 am

At a work session this week, Manatee County staff presented the board of county commissioners with some possible ways to “lower taxes” in a way that would be “revenue neutral,” one of which was to assess a stormwater collection fee from residential and commercial taxpayers. This sort of shell-game in which governments can disingenuously advertise a lower property tax while making up revenues with other “fees” has several negative impacts, from tax consequences for the property owners to inequitable distribution of the costs and fees.

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Unlike property taxes, property owners cannot write off such fees on their annual tax returns. Therefore, claims that such changes are cost neutral, do not hold up when true costs to homeowners are examined. These fees are also not consumption based, meaning that in many cases there will not be a direct relationship between fees and true costs as they apply to each property owner.

Some properties have improved stormwater retention systems. Would they be credited in some way? Many homes will never even have their runoff enter the public stormwater collection system because they were designed to discharge into other waterways. Under the proposed system, these property owners would be paying for a service they do not benefit from.

As commercial properties typically have much more “impervious surface area,” they can be subject to enormous assessments, increasing the cost of doing business in the county. Under such a system, landlords (especially of multi-unit dwellings that are usually assessed by a factor of the unit number) are transferred a cost that would be paid by tenants that they must either absorb, or more likely, pass along through higher rents.

 

Also, there is the matter of the considerable initial cost of implementing such a system. Engineers, consultants and attorneys who are not needed in the current process will consume scarce tax dollars in establishing fees and performing future assessments for an end result that the county acknowledges will be revenue neutral.

The county currently has a combined utility system with water and sewer/landfill/stormwater for the very purpose of enabling crossover funding so that such fees are not needed. The current funding sources have proven adequate and the county has not demonstrated a need for stormwater revenues to fund needed projects. If future funding is required for specific basins with a known geographical boundary, creating special tax districts is an equitable way to provide such revenues if and when the need arises.

Politicians often argue that following other municipalities down this road is necessary to advertise competitive property tax rates. But the true costs of deviating from an adequate status quo are far from neutral and not distributed in an equitable fashion conducive to a strong economy that promotes economic growth. Despite the anomaly of our current recession, property taxes are typically a stable revenue source. Deviating from a system that works will provide little more than the ability to dupe taxpayers and prospective transplants as to the costs of property ownership in the county, while unfairly burdening nearly every class of taxpayer to uneven and unjustified degrees. We believe Manatee County taxpayers should reject any measure to move toward such policies.

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So they will hire new people to assess these fees, then another billing and mailing and then the collection of those fees but don't worry it will be revenue neutral?

The biggest problem that I have is that they think their taxing of me and my fellow citizens is neutral. It isn't. I didn't mind when it was a reasonable sum of money. It no longer is reasonable. They decide they need no kill shelters. Did they donate their pay and benefits to support the animals that were not wanted by their owners but now are on welfare to the taxpayer? They decide to run the Longboat Key Trolley (which has seen a major decline in ridership) and make us pay for it. I'll let you name a few they decides we pay stories. They meet and have staff and expenses with other taxing authorities in our county then they meet with the taxing cities and then they all have a little get together the Council of Governments......I believe they should spend their time meeting with those people that voted them into office. I don't need, do you need? Time to stop the spending clear up our debt (Carol Whitmore told us "debt is good, it gives the county a higher credit rating") and discontinue programs like the Trolley that don't work.
Posted by Linda Neely on January 22, 2013
 

Beware of politicians who talk of switching fees especially those who promise lower fees on garbage pickup by two dollars but will raise storm water collection fees by two dollars,then tell you it will be revenue neutral. The question to ask yourself & then to ask the politicians is why? If the change is revenue neutral why go thru the trouble of the change.I bet you will get more double talk than straight answers.I learned long ago to never trust politicians who try to con you to pass their true agenda,sort of like a fox guarding the hen house.Sadly a lot of voters will keep buying into their line of bull.
Posted by William E.Moore on January 20, 2013
 

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