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‘Working waterfront’ property owners look forward to tax break

By Staff | Nov 22, 2008

About 50 commercial waterfront properties in Lee County will be see lower property tax appraisals as a result of the passage of Amendment 6 during the Nov. 4 general election, but they will have to wait until 2010 to see any savings.

More than 70 percent of voters statewide and nearly 75 percent of voters in Lee County approved of the amendment that will allow county property appraisers to value commercial waterfront properties according to what they are used for instead of “their highest and best use” as they are now.

In practice, that means marinas, boatyards, fish packing houses, and other commercial waterfront properties are taxed as high-rise condominiums.

“I authored that amendment, so I’m pleased that it passed,” Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said.

State legislators will draft implementing language next year before the voter-approved amendment takes effect. Property appraisals are based on the previous year’s sales, so owners won’t see any tax relief from the amendment until 2010.

Ken Stead, executive director of the Southwest Florida Marine Industry Association, supported the amendment as a way to prevent high-end condos and boat slips from dominating the water recreation scene.

In recent years, many owners of commercial waterfront properties have sold their sites to developers who build expensive condos that offer boat slips as water access. Stead thinks the amendment will provide some breathing space for those owners and allow people who can’t afford a waterfront condo greater access to Florida’s rivers, lakes and oceans.

“Our hope is through limited tax relief the people that own those properties will be more likely to hang on to their properties. It’s kind of an equity issue,” Stead said.

Wilkinson said the amendment won’t be an extra burden to cash-strapped local governments.

“I never see this as lost revenue. The taxing authorities, if they want more revenue, they’ll have to adjust the millage,” Wilkinson said.

Stead pointed to the amendment’s overwhelming support as evidence Floridians prize water access as part of the state’s lifestyle.

“We feel the public has truly spoken on the importance of water access. With 70 percent statewide, in our opinion, that’s a large mandate,” he said.