Friday, May 12, 2006

Sucker Punch

"It's been said that negligent local government is Northwest Florida's most lucrative source of revenue."
Navarre Beach residents just can't catch a break. First, they lose their leaseholder tax appeal. Now, they're up in arms over escalating Santa Rosa County MSBU assessments for public beach renourishment, according to William Rabb's report in today's PNJ:
"The county set up a taxing district for the beach renourishment work in 2003 and sent bills to beach residents last month. The renourishment fees were based largely on the 2005 appraised value of the property. But because of rising housing prices after recent hurricanes, those values have little basis in reality, property owners said."
Rabb's article includes the obligatory individual tale of horror. It's compelling -- and probably representative of a good many other Navarre Beach residents and businesses:
"Adrienne Wilson and her husband purchased a condominium unit on Navarre Beach a decade ago so they could rent it out and build their retirement nest egg.

"'Now, we're going to have to sell it because we can't pay the assessment fees,' said Wilson, a dental hygienist from Atlanta.

* * *
"Wilson, for example, must pay $13,000 over six years for her 14th-story unit at The Pearl condominium, while a similar unit on the second floor pays much less, she said. She can't rent her condo for much because the development's swimming pool is still out of service, but she still must pay more than owners in other high-rise developments on the beach, she said."

"'It's just not fair,'" Wilson said.
What Rabb has missed is that Navarre Beach residents actually asked for the MSBU tax to be imposed on themselves. Worried some years ago that Santa Rosa County was dragging its feet addressing the issue of post-Hurricane Georges sand replacement, Navarre Beach residents went so far as to propose taxing themselves as a way of persuading the county to undertake the project.

Even the Navarre Beach Leaseholders & Residents Assn. supported the move. The organization's leadership told others at the time it was a "good will" gesture.

The county apparently saw it as a sucker's move. First, Santa Rosa county created the new MSBU taxing authority, as requested, to make beach residents shoulder a substantial part of public beach renourishment expenses. Then, tax assessor Greg Brown went one better and imposed ad valorem taxes on all Navarre Beach leaseholds. Now, it seems, he's calculating the special MSBU assessment on the basis of artificially inflated property values.

So much for good will gestures. If beach renourishment is a good idea -- and as Cornelia Dean has documented there are plenty of reasons to think it may not be -- as long as the beaches remain public, paying for it should be a public responsibility, not a private burden.

It's been said that negligent local government is Northwest Florida's most lucrative source of revenue. Haven't planned for picking up hurricane debris? Let FEMA pay for it. Don't have enough storm shelters? Ask the state legislature for money. Idiotically located a smelly sewer plant in downtown Pensacola? Have the feds pay to move it. Avoided sensible zoning to keep dangerous dioxin plants away from residential neighborhoods? Let EPA pay the clean-up costs.

They don't call this the "Florida Panhandle" for nothing.

The next time a Northwest Florida city or county ducks its public responsibility in hopes someone else will pay for it, remember the "good will" gesture of Navarre Beach residents. More likely than not, all you'll get is a sucker-punch.

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