State Amendments with local impacts

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SARASOTA COUNTY - From disabled vets to first time home buyers, five property tax discounts for certain groups of people are part of the eleven amendments set for the November ballot. Local officials say some are worthy while others will have huge financial consequences on local governments.

There is currently a property tax discount for combat-disabled veterans. "The catch is you must have entered into the service from the State of Florida." Venice resident and retired Army veteran Norm MacLellen was wounded twice in Vietnam. After living in Florida for decades he doesn't get the break. "I am hard pressed to think of one who was born in Florida or entered the service in Florida. I would think the group which is currently eligible for it is pretty small."

Amendment 2 would extend it to all of those disabled veterans who call the Sunshine State home. "It tells the veteran that the state cares and the State of Florida is doing what they can to reward the service of the veteran."

Sarasota County Commissioner Nora Patterson says it would cost the local government no more than $100,000 a year. "We are told by the people who crunch our numbers and they are pretty good that the total impact is there but it is not huge."

Amendment 9 would provide some tax exemptions to the surviving spouse of a veteran who died from service related issues. Cost to the county: less than $10,000.

So the impact of supporting veterans on this ballot appears to be fairly minimal. However, local leaders warn supporting some of the other questions will have big impacts.

Amendment 4 is the big one; it would give some tax exemptions to first-time home buyers. "The question being put to vote is anybody who has not had a homestead property in Florida in the past three years. It's not just people coming new to the state."

Patterson says it could cost the county $5 million a year. It would be in addition to the current $50,000 homestead exemption many qualify for. She says it would likely mean a reduction in service or more taxes for the rest to make up the difference. "It could mean somebody pays no taxes at all. Somebody has to pay the bill."

Patterson says in nearly all the amendments, the language is very confusing. "People need to study them and they need to know what the impacts are. The actual ballot language will not tell them that."

Amendment 10 would exempt some tangible personal property items like furniture and jewelry.

Amendment 11 would provide exemptions for low income seniors who have lived in their home for more than 25 years.