In an appalling show of bombastic and bumbling ineptitude, three of five Marion County Commissioners – all 5 Republicans – voted Tuesday morning to deny the Amendment 11 tax exemption to poor, longtime resident seniors. Despite public pressure from news articles and a Star Banner editorial that chastised the Commissioners for their reluctance, and about a dozen public commenters who appealed for its adoption during the meeting, commissioners made it clear that poor seniors are not as important as half-baked, hypocritical ideological positions.
After approving $350,000 in tax breaks for R+L Carriers, a huge trucking company owned by local mega-millionaire “Larry” Roberts, which is locating a logistics center at the old Taylor, Bean and Whitaker office building near North Magnolia Ave., Ocala, pictured right, there was a presentation by an official from ICE of US Homeland Security whose ill treatment by Commissioner McClain is the subject of another post.
A parade of public comment ensued, most seeking adoption of the Amendment 11 tax exemption which was passed by Florida voters last November by 61%, and also by 61% of Marion County voters. Adoption would require a super-majority of commissioners – 4 of 5.
Amendment 11 narrowly defined who would qualify for a complete property tax exemption;
resident in the home for 25 years,
income under $27,000 per year, and
over age 65.
An exact number of possible qualifying properties has not been provided, but the County Tax Appraiser estimated the cost at $162,000 per year. The Marion County Commission’s annual budget exceeds $500,000,000; yes, over $500 million.
Among those struggling to pay their property taxes, James Bowden of Belleview explained how he had lived in Marion County his entire life, never made great money in a community known even today for its abysmally low wages, and how his taxes had increased to accommodate others as the community grew by leaps and bounds.
David Sullivan from northwest Marion told how he was now “broke” and too old to work any longer, and called the impact on the county budget “miniscule.”
Anita Frauenshuh of SW Hwy 200 said that her household would not benefit from Amendment 11 but she stood as an advocate. She noted that the affected seniors had paid taxes and contributed to the community’s economy and well-being for over 25 years, and were still doing so. Further, the 61% voter approval was not simply votes from likely beneficiaries, but a popular endorsement by all citizens.
Irvin Curtin of Belleview, who had been mentioned in the first article raising the issue to the County Commission, asserted that 60 of 67 Florida counties plus 118 municipalities had adopted Amendment 11. He wryly commented that with a $162,000 cost and a $500,000,000 budget, “there isn’t much slack to be picked up.” He noted that there are dozens of tax exemptions in the county’s property tax code, and it was “reprehensible” for commissioners to oppose this one.
Nancy Noonan of Summerfield contrasted the commissioners’ willingness to commit $30 million of taxpayer funds for rich local developer John Rudnianyn to have an unneeded exit ramp on I-75 to benefit his neighboring property, yet couldn’t allow a mere $162,000 for longtime resident, poor seniors. Sge calculated that the funds set out just for Rudnianyn’s wish would pay for the Amendment 11 exemption for 185 years. She said it seemed that the wealthy and privileged could get taxpayer funds, but deserving seniors were dismissed.
Tea Party leader Butch Verrando bellowed against adoption in threatening terms for commissioners’ re-election. Verrando claimed that today the amount was $162,000, but in 5 years it would be $1 million, and in 5 more years it would be $5 million. He was just pulling the numbers out of thin air, of course. He’s Tea Party; that’s what he does. He further showed his complete ignorance of the subject by declaring that if adopted, the exemption would make Marion County into a “repository for every old person who has no income.” He called it a “socialist agenda.” He probably thinks lunch menus are a socialist agenda, too.
Commission Chair Bryant had John Schaefer, the county’s Fiscal Manager, verify the $162,000, and he noted that adoption was up to each county or municipal government. It did not apply to school taxes. As far as Verrando’s assertion of gigantic increases, Schaefer said “one could speculate” that increases could possibly occur over time without guessing any amounts.
County attorney Guy Minter noted that the law allows for “periodic adjustment for income limitations.”
At the end of the public comments, new Commissioner Earl Arnett moved adoption of Amendment 11 and gained a reluctant second from fellow new Commissioner David Moore . Let the crazy begin.
Arnett noted that 17% of seniors struggle with their day-to-day costs, and allowed that this would provide needed relief. Moore didn’t like a narrow tax break for a special group, and preferred across the board tax cuts, yet remained reluctantly in favor.
Commissioner Carl Zalak tried to claim that charity was not the government’s business, that it was a matter of personal free will. Indeed, it would be hard to categorize the county’s giveaways to wealthy families and rich corporations as “charity,” but they were giveaways nonetheless. It seems he did not consider the difference between the undeserving and the deserving. Typically, the rich and powerful don’t need government charity, but they get it all the time from the County Commission. The deserving simply don’t get (or deserve) anything in the upside-down world of Carl Zalak. To top off his inane comments, he said it was “picking winners and losers.” Huh? Who? Well, that’s so dumb, irrelevant, and out of context, it doesn’t deserve further comment.
Commissioner Stan McClain reiterated his favorite line that property taxes are just plain wrong. Therefore, you might think he would be in favor of this tax exemption for poor seniors. You would be wrong. His view reflects another bowl full of wacky. He correctly chastised state legislators for not simply taking action themselves and making local officials do their work. He went on to rail about the accumulated cost of $162,000 year after year, and what the county would not be able to do as a result.
As Ms. Noonan said, this pittance would be paid up for 185 years with the money committed to Mr. Rudnianyn’s useless exit ramp. McClain had no problem at all with the Rudnianyn giveaway, to cite just one glaring example of wealthy welfare. Advocating the so-called Fair Tax which is a regressive and harmful tax scheme, McClain said there were too many property tax exemptions, it was an unfair system, that only a small segment of the community was actually paying taxes, and soon everyone would want a tax exemption. If you were looking for a consistent and logical explanation from McClain, that was as close as it came. None of it made much sense or held much water. His final flourish was to call the Amendment 11 exemption “progressive, liberal tax policy.” Loopy, I know, but that’s what he said; a tax break is “progressive, liberal tax policy.” Yup, and he’s been elected three times.
Any hope for an intelligent remark from an experienced county commissioner was lost when Commission Chair Kathy Bryant started. She babbled about working two jobs and raising four kids and helping an elderly neighbor, none of which connected to the issue at hand. (What, she is a “real” person, too?) Finally she said adoption of Amendment 11 would “open Pandora’s box” and have everyone wanting a tax break. They must all have been reading from the same playbook. Ya’ think? Niblock’s “Poppycock” or did they think it up by themselves? She, too, parroted the meaningless criticism that the property tax system is broken. She claimed that “only property owners support county government” and it was unfair. This would be shocking news to the many folks who pay a variety of taxes that form revenue streams for county government. If taxpayers don’t own property, they don’t seem to exist in Commissioner Bryant’s world, much less count for anything. Of course, even if you do own property and qualify for Amendment 11 tax relief, you still don’t count for anything with Commissioner Bryant. Get rich if you want attention.
As broken as they claim the property tax system apparently is, none of the commissioners seem capable of lifting a finger to fix it. Isn’t that why they were elected? But enough logic; there are exemptions that rich people need to stay wealthy. Consider the impressive agricultural tax break likely received by mega-millionaire Larry Roberts, private owner of R+L Carriers – yeah, the one getting that tax break mentioned in the beginning of the meeting. His ag tax break for his mammoth horse farm on oodles of northwest Marion acres is worth a bundle. The aerial view in the slide show frames a small part of the Roberts estate. Pretty nice.
It’s the same agricultural exemption used by developers for choice properties worth millions; ‘plant pine and you’re fine.’
Sorry, poor seniors who have lived here for over 25 years: you can go and suck an egg.
It was a sad and shameful day for Marion County as the majority of commissioners failed to serve its people fairly, turning a blind eye to their own hypocrisy while offering a stupidly inconsistent ideology in condemning poor, longtime resident seniors for daring to seek a puny tax break.