Editor’s note: Contributing columnist, Steve Nicklas, expresses his views and insight on various topics in Marketplace column.
They say only death and taxes are certain in life. However, in Nassau County, a property tax increase is also certain. And it’s to die for.
The only uncertainty is how big the tax increase will be next year. It could be the largest ever for county residents and businesses. Like some 25 percent above what you were paying.
County commissioners earlier set the tentative tax rate at a whopping 1.9 mills, but failed to confirm that rate this week. They also rejected a reduced rate of 1.5 mills, even though this level is still alarming. There will be a tax increase; it’s just undecided how much right now.
And once again, the county finance staff is clamoring for additional revenues to pay for capital projects, like roads. Granted, infrastructure must be maintained, but new tax receipts are flowing in like a changing tide in the St. Marys River channel. Higher property values are driving them.
That’s not enough, however, for county finance officials. They want more. The county millage is currently set at 8.2 mills, so you can see the magnitude of the proposed hikes.
Fortunately, several county commissioners (Steve Kelley and George Spicer) came to their senses. The largest tax increase (1.9 mills) required a unanimous vote. The lesser one (1.5 mills), needed only a majority vote. Both failed.
Kelley was the most outspoken, saying he would have a “real, real difficult time voting for a 1.9-mill increase.” While county finance officials recognize that tax revenues have increased, they claim expenses have exceeded them. So expenses, and spending, have become excessive.
The budgeting process in the county has been based on a hackneyed approach consisting of “wish lists.” Each county department submits its most-wanted list, and finance officials try to accommodate it.
On a positive note, the county is expecting a 19 percent reduction in insurance costs. This would allow for any tax-rate increase to be lessened.
Property Values Up Over 8%
Property owners already face a tax increase because values have risen by more than 8 percent in the county. This means your property is worth more, so there is more value to be taxed.
If the full 1.9 mill increase is approved, it would push the county tax rate to about 10 mills for the first time. This a “first” that we should not celebrate, but bemoan.
County officials contend they have neglected glaring needs in our infrastructure over the years. Pressing projects include new first stations, roadway maintenance, ditch drainage and various purchases of equipment.
In addition, reserves have been depleted by repairs and cleanup from back-to-back hurricanes in successive years (Matthew and Irma). Officials say these reserve accounts need to be replenished.
Some county commissioners have opined that raising taxes is a difficult feat. This is actually easy. To the contrary, reducing spending is the most difficult task. And it’s something we need to consider.
Steve Nicklas is a financial advisor and a chartered retirement planning counselor for a regional U.S. firm who lives on Amelia Island. He is also an award-winning columnist. His business columns also regularly appear in several newspapers in North Florida and on his personal website SteveNicklasMarketplace.com. He has published a book of his favorite columns from the last 20 years, “All About Money.” The book is available in local stores and on Amazon. He can be reached at 904-753-0236 or at [email protected]