Property taxes become campaign talking points

BRADENTON BEACH – City Commission candidates have distributed campaign materials that prompted The Sun to fact check claims being made regarding property taxes.

Candidate Tjet Martin mailed out a campaign letter that said, “Our taxes were raised unnecessarily. A 12 percent increase.”

When adopting the 2018-19 fiscal year budget in September, the City Commission unanimously voted to maintain the 2.3329 millage rate that’s been in place since 2012. Incumbent Commissioners Marilyn Maro and Ralph Cole are now seeking reelection.

The Anna Maria and Holmes Beach commissions also maintained their previous year millage rates.

The Florida Constitution caps property tax increases on homesteaded properties to 3 percent per year. Now up for voter renewal, there is also a 10 percent cap on non-homesteaded properties that includes vacation rentals and commercial properties.

Martin lives with former mayor Bill Shearon at his Linger Longer beachfront resort. According to Manatee County Property Appraiser records, Shearon claims $50,500 in homestead and disability exemptions.

According to Shearon’s 2017 tax bill, he paid $2,473 in Bradenton Beach property taxes last year. According to his 2018 trim notice, Shearon will now pay $2,636. The additional $162 equates to a 6.5 percent increase – not the 12 percent cited in Martin’s letter.

Martin’s next-door neighbor and fellow candidate John Metz’s recent campaign mailer said, “Why are your taxes being raised?”

Metz claims a $25,000 homestead on the beachfront cottage that he lives in and uses half as a vacation rental. He paid $2,019 in city property taxes in 2017. According to his 2018 trim notice, he will now pay $2,160. The additional $141 is 6.5 percent more than last year.

When giving his State of the City address last week, Mayor John Chappie said 251 of Bradenton Beach’s 1,915 taxable properties are homesteaded and account for only $144,000 (10 percent) of the city’s $1.44 million in projected property tax revenues.

CRA claims

Metz’s campaign mailer also took issue with “non-resident merchants” serving on city boards. The seven-member Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) includes two non-resident business owners: Ed Chiles and John Horne.

“Merchants hold four out of seven seats on the CRA Board which answers why our tax money is primarily being spent in the business district,” Metz’s flyer says.

The two other merchants that serve on the CRA are business owners, city residents and city commissioners Ralph Cole and Jake Spooner.

State law requires CRA-generated property tax revenues to be spent only on projects that enhance and improve the CRA district that extends from the Cortez Bridge to the southernmost side of Fifth Street South.

CRA funds are now used for additional marine patrols of the unmanaged anchorage near the Bridge Street Pier and for additional police patrols on Bridge Street. CRA funds paid for recent improvements to Lou Barolo Park and are being used to fund the delayed replacement of the public day dock. CRA funds will be used to put Bridge Street utility lines underground and have been proposed for a park and ride shuttle service from Cortez Beach to Bridge Street.

Legal fees

Metz is treasurer of the Keep Our Residential Neighborhoods (KORN) political action committee chaired by former Bradenton Beach resident Reed Mapes, who now lives in Parrish. When KORN failed to get four charter amendment questions placed on this year’s ballot, Mapes and KORN filed a lawsuit against the city. A judge’s ruling is expected soon.

According to City Treasurer Shayne Thompson, KORN’s lawsuit cost the city $10,812 as of Oct. 19. The Charter Review Committee appointed in response to KORN’s charter initiatives cost an additional $22,155.

The 2017 Concerned Neighbors of Bradenton Beach charter amendment initiatives Metz and Martin helped initiate cost city taxpayers $9,435.

In 2017, the City Commission jointly initiated a civil lawsuit alleging Metz, Martin and four other city advisory board members violated the Sunshine Law by discussing city business outside of a properly noticed city meeting. To date, that lawsuit has cost city taxpayers $101,491 and a trial date is sought for early 2019.

The 2016 lawsuit Metz filed against the city and Building Official Steve Gilbert has cost city taxpayers $31,309.

In 2015, Metz unsuccessfully challenged the candidacy of recall election candidate Jack Clarke. That legal action taken against Clarke later subjected city taxpayers to more than $11,000 in unbudgeted legal fees.

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