Cities consider ‘optional’ tax break but state proposed homestead exemption for seniors already in the Keys

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On the Nov. 6, 2012 ballot there were four questions put to the voters regarding property taxes. Two were constitutional amendments approved by the majority and automatically became state law. Those exempted veterans injured in combat and widows of first responders or veterans. The last property tax exemption for low-income seniors, although approved by the majority of voters, is optional. Keys municipalities are just now considering its validity and implementation.

“So far, we’ve had inquiries from the governments of Key Colony Beach, City of Key West, City of Islamorada and Monroe County,” said Lynn Garcia, the real estate department supervisor in the Monroe County Property Appraiser’s office.

The only catch: With the exception of Key Colony Beach, all of the Keys municipalities already HAVE a low-income senior exemption.

What’s currently on the books allows a $50,000 exemption for a senior that is 65 years or older, whom already qualifies for a homestead exemption, and has a total adjusted gross income that doesn’t exceed $27,950 in 2013.

The new state constitutional amendment (article VII, section 6) would put two more qualifiers on it. The assessed value cannot be more than $250,000 and the property owner must have lived in the home full-time for the past 25 years. At its most recent city council meeting, Marathon looked at the matter but decided to table the issue until it had more time to do research.

“I think it was wise to step back. We need to be sure we understand this before we jump into the pool,” said City Manager Roger Hernstadt.

If the cities and county do adopt the voter-suggested low-income senior tax exemption, it would only affect a tiny sliver of the populace.

“What we did was a rough estimate based on our current senior citizen exemption with low income,” said Garcia. “We looked at how many qualified last year and subtracted out any home that has an assessed value higher than $250,000.”

Garcia estimates that if the new law was implemented, only about 300 to 350 residents countywide might qualify for the tax break. And the tax break only applies to the amount of taxes collected by the county or municipality. In other words, monies collected by the South Florida Water Management District or Mosquito Control would not count toward the tax benefit.

Sara Matthis thinks community journalism is important, but not serious; likes weird and wonderful children (she has two); and occasionally tortures herself with sprint-distance triathlons, but only if she has a good chance of beating her sister.