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Senate bill offers post-disaster relief to homeowners


Date: January 28, 2017
Source: The Daytona Beach News-Journal
Author:  Tony Holt


A bill in the Florida Legislature aims to provide tax relief to owners of homes damaged by any "act of God, such as Hurricane Matthew.

This bill, written fewer than three months after Matthew pulverized Volusia and Flagler counties, puts the onus on local property appraisers to determine whether a property is eligible for a reduction in its assessed value following a natural disaster, said the author, Sen. Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine.

As it stands, the state comes in and provides tax relief to those whose property was destroyed by a hurricane or other natural disaster, Hutson said. His bill, if signed into law, would allow for local governments to take more of the initiative.

Hutson represents a territory that stretches from Ponte Vedra Beach to Daytona Beach Shores. He said 80 percent of Florida homes severely damaged by Hurricane Matthew are located in his district, with the bulk of them in and around St. Augustine, which he called Matthew's "ground zero."

The natural disasters identified in Senate Bill 272 are hurricanes, earthquakes, fires, floods, sinkholes and tornadoes.

"I doubt we're going to have any problem with this," said Flagler County Property Appraiser Jay Gardner. "If they want to help out the people, it's OK with us.

"It's a lot of work for a small amount of money in reality, but hey, that's what we do here."

A property-tax bill for a storm-damaged home would be prorated. In other words, if a home is uninhabitable for two months out of the year, the tax bill be would adjusted accordingly, according to the bill's language.

Larry Bartlett, new to his job as Volusia County property appraiser, said he sees how the bill would benefit homeowners, but doesn't think it will have much of an impact on his job or those of his staff.

"The Property Appraiser's Office is already involved whenever there is storm damage," Bartlett said. "We provide information to (the Federal Emergency Management Agency) ... We do a lot."

Hutson said the bill only applies to homesteads and does not include detached structures, such as sheds and swimming pools.

In other Florida Legislature news, Hutson is co-sponsoring a bill that would exempt feminine hygiene products, namely tampons, from the state sales tax. The bill was filed Dec. 15 and already has reached the Appropriations Committee.

Hutson said he and fellow lawmakers realized late during last year's session that such products were taxable, so they vowed to change it in 2017.