Property tax increases for South Florida schools aren't the answer

posted by Brian Mudd - 

Property tax increases for South Florida schools are disproportionately punitive 

Bottom Line: Recently, on back of Palm Beach County's decision to pursue a property tax increase that averaged $262 per household annually, I suggested it was important to know your numbers before voting this fall. The argument is almost always the same. More money is needed for our kids and our teachers. This despite Palm Beach County already reaping huge revenue increases every year since 2012 as property assessments, population increases, a strong local economy and a special sales tax increase of 16.7%, half of which our schools receive. I implored you to look at the detail of your property tax bill to see how much you're already paying in property taxes specifically for the Palm Beach County School District. I suspect it's a surprisingly high figure (that's the response I've generally received so far). Regardless – when it comes to seeking more money I have a problem when it's coming in the form of property taxes. First, I question the premise of property taxes. Do you ever really "own" your home when you can literally be taxed out of it? And on that note when it comes to property taxes why should something, public schools, that only a minority of home owners use be, something that could cause one to lose their home if they can’t afford the rising taxes? That's disproportionally true in Palm Beach County.  

The average age of a resident in Palm Beach County is 44. The highest in the state. Palm Beach County's 65 and older population is currently 24% according to Census data. That compares to just 19% of the population that's under the age of 18 and only 14% that are of grade school age. In other words, 100% of households pay property taxes to support the schooling of less than 14% of the population (that 14% doesn't account for those who attended private schools or who have dropped out). Does that really make sense? Should we really put those struggling to get by or seniors on fixed incomes in positions to potentially be taxed out of their homes to pay for the Palm Beach County School District's desire to tax you still further - when fewer than 14% of our county's residents would theoretically benefit? I'll continue to bring perspective to this issue throughout the election cycle.  

In Miami-Dade it's a somewhat similar version of a different thing but with a smaller ask. Miami-Dade's referendum is 25% less than Palm Beach County's. Unlike Palm Beach County, Miami-Dade is actually disproportionately underfunded based on by research, with considerably less per student spending in a more challenging education environment (arguably the most challenging in the country due to demographics) with the same grade performance for the school district. For that reason, a funding increase is reasonable, but it appears that the state should be sending more to Miami-Dade and that'd certainly be my preference over property taxes increases as is proposed for voters to consider. In Miami-Dade 16% of the population is over 65 with about 14% that's also of grade school age.  

In Broward it's still further complicated. Of the tri-county area it's the least funded per student but the performance isn't in the same ballpark as Miami-Dade and Palm Beach. The ask in Broward is half of what Palm Beach County is asking for and 25% less than Miami-Dade which would represent about $112 per household annually. Broward's also the 2nd oldest county to Palm Beach County, meaning that still fewer households have students, or perspective students, than Miami-Dade.  

The versions of a similar thing with the outcome being significant. Property taxes are different than other taxes. There's no way to avoid them without losing your home. That's a tall ask in my book – especially when a minority of those paying the taxes potentially benefit directly from them. 

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