Q&A – Can Florida Property Taxes Be Withheld Over School District Disputes?
Each day I feature a listener question sent by one of these methods.
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Today’s entry: Just wondering if we have any reasonable method to withhold property taxes or put them in escrow because I disagree with how our tax dollars are being spent by the school board.
Bottom Line: In short, no. Not without risking the loss of your home. But that’s also not the end of the story either. I’ve had this question pop up several times recently with the increasing disgust by South Floridians with local school districts who've imposed mask mandates in violation of state law. Some have asked whether the districts breaking the law would enable them to not have to pay the portion of their property taxes earmarked for schools. Additionally, as more parents have become engaged with school boards, commonly showing up at meetings, attempting to be heard, etc., they’ve seen how little regard South Florida’s school board members and school superintendents - who’ve proved to be little more than day-to-day puppets for the school boards who’ve hired them – have for them. At this point, with that frustration and the recent receipt of our property tax assessments, with our school districts being the largest recipients of the taxes we’re forced to pay – I hear your frustration and understand. I have constructive thoughts for you, and all who are thinking this way in a moment, but first to address the structural elements of your question. Here’s the Florida statute pertaining to property taxes:
192.011 All property to be assessed.—The property appraiser shall assess all property located within the county, except inventory, whether such property is taxable, wholly or partially exempt, or subject to classification reflecting a value less than its just value at its present highest and best use. Extension on the tax rolls shall be made according to regulation promulgated by the department in order properly to reflect the general law. Streets, roads, and highways which have been dedicated to or otherwise acquired by a municipality, a county, or a state agency may be assessed, but need not be.
So, it’s state law that all property must be assessed annually. As for what happens if property taxes aren’t paid in full by April 1st:
197.402 Advertisement of real or personal property with delinquent taxes.—
(2) Within 45 days after the personal property taxes become delinquent, the tax collector shall advertise a list of the names of delinquent personal property taxpayers and the amount of tax due by each. The advertisement shall include a notice that all personal property taxes are drawing interest at the rate of 18 percent per year and that, unless the delinquent taxes are paid, warrants will be issued thereon pursuant to s. 197.413 and the tax collector will apply to the circuit court for an order directing levy upon and seizure of the personal property of the taxpayer for the unpaid taxes.
So no, there’s no room for withholding any portion of your property taxes without consequences which can result in the seizure of your home – regardless of the size of the delinquency. Now here’s the thing. This is Constitutional law in Florida. There are ways to change constitutional law through proposed constitutional amendments. Our legislators can place initiatives directly on our ballots. Citizen initiatives can be brought to seek access to our ballots. If you would like to alter the way property taxes are assessed and penalties imposed, you – we have ways to address those concerns. Is it an uphill battle and a half. Yeah. But is it possible? Do you think you could find that 60% of Floridians would believe we should reform property taxes? I do. Especially if that meant paying less and not allowing for the seizure of property over property tax assessments. Earlier this week I made the case that meaningful change with property taxation (along with insurance reform) is needed, in part for the ability for people to be able to continue to afford their homes. There’s an opportunity to advocate for a new model.
Despite the immense frustrations many feel right now, including yourself, what’s been happening here is full of positives. All of this has led to greater engagement with our children’s education, greater engagement with our school boards, greater awareness of where school superintendents' allegiances really rest, greater awareness of most public-school teachers being members of the teacher’s unions who’ve supported keeping schools closed, mandatory mask policies, the teaching of CRT and most recently the FBI investigation of concerned parents and citizens at school board meetings. It’s also led to greater awareness of how much we’re paying directly to these school districts for all of this nonsense with the roof over our heads. That likewise is a positive.
There are times when you’re in the middle of battling a bad situation in which it may feel like you’re losing. It’s often at those times that you’re on the precipice of meaningful change. I believe we’re in one of those moments. The union-controlled school boards wouldn’t have petitioned the Justice Department to come after us if what we’re doing wasn’t effective. That’s why, as I mentioned yesterday, it’s important that we get louder together in this effort to reclaim our schools from the unions. Do not be dispirited or intimidated.