Fla. considers tax relief law for injured first responders

The proposal would give injured first responders relief from ad valorem taxes assessed on homestead property


By Paul Catala
The Ledger

LAKELAND, Fla. — For 32 years, James "Rick" Beale put his life on the literal line, battling blazes to keep homes, properties and most importantly, lives safe.

Although not injured or disabled himself, over those years, Beale knows other fellow firefighters around Polk County, Florida and the United States weren't as fortunate and ended their careers permanently disabled from a work-related incident. And he said he feels any financial support or burden relief those first responders receive might somewhat help alleviate their situations.

That's why when it comes up for vote Nov. 8, Beale, who spent the majority of his career at the Lakeland Fire Department's Beacon Hill station, said he will vote "yes" on Amendment 3, giving a tax exemption for totally and permanently disabled first responders. The proposal would give first responders — fire, emergency personnel, police, sheriff's deputies — who are totally and permanently disabled as a result of injuries sustained in the line of duty, relief from ad valorem taxes assessed on homestead property. If approved by 60 percent of voters, the amendment would take effect Jan. 1, 2017.

Beale, who retired in 2009, said he has "mixed feelings" about the amendment because of how it would be funded, but, "If I was still employed and was disabled it might be nice for my property taxes."

"I would support it for my fellow brother firefighters and law enforcement, but the money for it would have to come from somewhere; someone's taxes will have to go up," he said.

Those in favor of Amendment 3 said it's important to recognize the sacrifice first responders give in the line of duty protecting citizens and it's a way the state can collectively express appreciation, by granting property tax relief, according to The James Madison Institute, a Florida free-market think-tank that provides guidance on public policy issues. Those who oppose it, the Institute stated, argue the Amendment establishes tax exemptions for taxpayer properties based simply on occupation. Opponents claim all taxpayers should be treated consistently and objectively with respect to taxation.

The joint Amendment 3 resolution states "the amount of tax relief may equal the total amount or a portion of the ad valorem tax otherwise owed on homestead property," according to language in the bill approved by the Florida Legislature: "The term 'disability' does not include a chronic condition or chronic disease, unless the injury sustained in the line of duty was the sole cause of the chronic condition or chronic disease."

How the Amendment would financially affect Polk and other counties, if passed, would be set by county commissions relative to their county budgets.

Polk County Commissioner George Lindsey III said if passed by voters, Amendment 3 wouldn't have a significant effect on the county's budget. He said it was doubtful the provision the amendment would provide would be used very often.

"The frequency of the occurrence would be negligible. Fortunately, there's not a groundswell of people who would need this," he said.

Amendment 3 was introduced in the Florida House of Representatives on Dec. 18, 2015. It passed the House unanimously Feb. 11 and the Senate unanimously March 9.

Copyright 2016 The Ledger

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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