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Grassroots tax cap drive under way

By Staff | Jan 10, 2009

Grassroots e-mail campaigns have made their way to the Cape, urging residents to sign a petition that asks state legislators to allow a 1.35 percent tax cap onto the ballot this year.
A number of Cape residents — facing one of the nastiest foreclosure rates in the nation — are trying to rally behind this unifying call, though, admittedly, some sign-ees don’t know exactly where the petition originated.
Southeast Cape residents David and Guynell Krzak signed and forwarded a petition that originated from floridataxpayersunion.org, an organization that claims to have collected 100,000 signatures statewide.
One third of the Krzak’s house payment includes taxes and insurance, totaling about $800 a month.
While not in trouble of losing their home, the Krzaks think something has to be done. They’re watching as their friends struggle just to maintain their daily lives.
“We know a lot of people in the Cape who are property owners who are fighting to save their house,” Guynell, 62, said. “There are many, many people who are in serious trouble.”
The Krzaks, whose home is not paid for, signed and forwarded the petition without a second thought.
David Krzak said he wouldn’t have gotten behind the campaign had he not believed in its possibilities.
“I wouldn’t bother myself out there if I didn’t think it would do any good,” he said.
Whether its the same petition Susan Valenza signed is not clear.
Like the Krzaks, she signed and forwarded the petition without a second glance. She retired to the Cape from Maryland with her husband, Charles, in 2005.
“I just feel like its becoming too high here for people to live,” Valenza said. “There are so many foreclosures around, our taxes are outlandish … it’s about time lawmakers start to work with the economy.”
Like the Krzaks, she, too, thinks grassroots campaigns like these will work. How many of these campaigns are out there, fighting for the same cause, remains to be seen, though most seem to be working toward the same goal.
Miami-based Property Tax Reform For All, Inc., has been working toward a sustainable and sensible tax cap for eight years, often finding themselves falling far short of their goal.
They are trying to get 611,000 signatures by Jan. 31. So far, they have only collected roughly 100,000, 245 of which have come from Lee County.
“It is frustrating, people are losing their homes, people who work really hard,” said Dr. Jose Vallabares, president of the group. “We all have to do something and we have to dedicate ourselves to something. How many people can afford attorneys? If you lose your home, you can’t afford anything.”
It’s unknown if they are responsible for sending the e-mail petitions to Cape, but Dr. Vallabares said he’s been taking his time away from his general medical practice to work on the campaign.
Growing increasingly frustrated, he wonders if another method might be needed to achieve different results.
“You can’t get different results with the same thing,” he said.
Back here in Lee County, Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said grassroots campaigns like these are common when it comes to the petition process.
He added that many “were credible” though he didn’t specify which ones. He added that he thought the idea of 1.35 percent tax cap is interesting, but the initiatives problem boils down to an administrative one.
“We’ve got 92 different taxing authorities in Lee County. That’s more than any other county in Florida,” he said. “We don’t know how the fine print would work out, the fine print of what they’re saying. It might not be the panacea they think it would be.”
Wilkinson, who formerly sat on the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, authored the so-called “Tax Swap” amendment, Amendment Five, which was shot down.
“Our initiative would require the legislature to replace the Required Local Effort, which is over 30 percent of the tax bill,” he said. “I was really disappointed it didn’t work out.”
The proposal would have replaced the local school school tax portion of the bill with a sales tax initiative.
Wilkinson added the 1.35 percent tax cap was discussed “casually” among members of the TBRC, but never formally. Even in casual conversation, it came back to administrative issues.
“There are so many unanswered questions,” he said.
For more information on the proposed 1.35 percent tax cap, visit floridataxpayersunion.org, or fairpropertytaxforall.org.