About one third of Longboat Key residents pay more property taxes without any benefit, town manager says.
How can two houses of equal value in the same town pay different property taxes?
That’s the question Town Manager Dave Bullock asked himself this spring and brought up again Nov. 1 with Sarasota County commissioners at their joint meeting with Longboat Key policymakers.
The answer is clear — Longboat is split between Manatee and Sarasota counties.
But that explanation doesn’t provide a solution to the underlying problem the question rises: What are the consequences of tax inequity in a town with a $5 billion — and growing — property value?
“Residents in Manatee County pay $2.5 million more in property taxes every year,” Bullock said in the Think Tank chamber of the Sarasota County Administrative building. “We don’t get any more services for that money.”
That was the first time those words were uttered in an official capacity outside of Longboat Key, Bullock said at the meeting.
And he said them with confidence.
The town of Longboat crunched the numbers and found two homes on either side of the island with almost identical property values: one in Manatee County worth $500,720 and another in Sarasota County worth $500,700.
If the Manatee dwelling were across the county line, the homeowners would save $764.28 in property taxes. Move the Sarasota home about two miles north, its property tax would increase $764.24.
This is because Sarasota County’s tax code is funded by special assessments, meaning the cost is commensurate to the benefit. Because Longboat has its own stormwater management and emergency services, it doesn’t pay the county for those services, Bullock said.
But Manatee County funds its activities through ad valorem property taxes, meaning every home in the area is taxed at the same rate, Bullock said.
Any resident wondering how much their taxes would change if they were in the other county can soon check a database similar to what was published for estimated undergrounding assessments.
But the problem of having a town split between two counties doesn’t stop with taxes. Two counties means two town elections — organized and aligned with the priorities of two supervisors of elections — two tax collector’s offices and two property appraisers, Bullock said.
It also means double the enforcement energy for imposing laws that often differ from one county to another, Bullock said.
And then comes park management and protection: Sarasota County spent a collective $10 million to purchase property for and build the Bayfront Park Recreation center; Manatee County has continually denied Longboat officials’ requests for financial help with the northernmost island park — Greer Island, colloquially known as Beer Can Island, Bullock said.
Sarasota County Commissioner Nancy Detert said at the meeting that despite these administrative issues, the financial aspect of this proposal is “certainly a compelling element.”
“You have a fairness issue,” Detert said. “These are pretty thorny problems.”
Longboat policymakers plan to meet with Manatee County commissioners in February and would like to send a nonbinding referendum to residents next November about whether they’d like to pursue the one-county initiative, Bullock said.