By Deborah Goonan, Independent American Communities
Today’s post provides another method of funding major community improvements, this one through the use of an ad valorem taxing unit.
Many beach front home and condo owners have been unable to enter their properties since Hurricane Irma, when huge volumes of sand was swept away from beneath their foundations, exposing concrete pilings below. (See photos in article linked below.)
A Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) is proposed for coastal South Ponte Vedra and Vilano Beaches, just south of St. Augustine, Florida. It would provide about $6.4 million toward a $27 million beach and sand dune replenishment project, following devastating damage from Hurricane Irma in 2017 and Hurricane Matthew in 2016. (To learn about MSTUs, see reference below, and refer to FL Statute 125.01)
The remaining $20 million dollars would be about evenly divided between a grant from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) and an increase in the bed tax charged by hotels and other local businesses that provide temporary lodging for visitors and tourists.
Everyone agrees on the need for sand — and lots of it — but there’s a controversy brewing over who should pay for it.
Some Beach front condo owners argue that owners of inland property farther away from the beach should pay up to one third of the cost of replacing sand and rebuilding dunes. They says that property owners close to the beach still reap the benefits of higher property values.
Of course, most property owners whose homes are not directly on the beach disagree. After all, they chose to own property a bit farther inland to avoid catastrophic damage from Florida’s notorious hurricanes and tropical storms. And, they argue, between the FDEP grant and an increase in the bed tax, if approved along with the MSTU, 389 beachfront owners will end up paying less than one fourth of the actual cost of the project.
Beachfront owners in favor of the MSTU say that, if a majority of property owners vote against taxing themselves, the planned sand replacement project will not take place, and property owners will have to explore other, more costly options available to them.
Oceanfront homeowners at odds over sand project design and cost share
It used to be that Robert Franskousky and his wife Jill Gleeson Franskousky could only see dunes out the first floor windows of their oceanfront Coastal Highway home.
They have a much better view of the water from there now, only they can’t get to the window.
They’ve spent about as much time out of their home, which they built in 2014, as they ever spent in it. It’s been sitting condemned since Hurricane Matthew, nudged about an inch and a half to the west by Hurricane Irma.
It’s hard to describe just how much sand is gone from behind their home, largely as a result of the two storms and other severe weather events over the past couple of years. You would have one heck of a hard time reaching the knob for their outdoor shower these days, seeing as how it’s about 20 to 25 feet above anything resembling level ground.
Looking up and down the beach from the Franskouskys’ home, it would seem something big and mean took a bite out of the whole stretch.
Pilings once totally concealed are fully exposed, foundations continue to lose ground as the sand beneath gives way to gravity, and sea walls are going up. Neighbors are doing reconnaissance on each other and comparing progress, or maybe just walking their dogs but stealing long glances to the side.
Sand is wanted here, but there seems to be something less than consensus about how much should go where and who should pay.
To learn more about MSTUs in Florida, see the following publication:
Special Assessments and the MSTU Concept A presentation to Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers New Clerk Academy By Robert L. Nabors
May 14, 2013
Municipal Service Taxing and Benefit Unit Concept
Section 125.01(1)(q), Florida Statutes, provides as an enumerated county power, the power to establish and subsequently merge or abolish municipal service taxing or benefit units. Such provisions expressly provide that such power is intended to be authorization for all counties to levy additional taxes within the limits fixed for municipal purposes under the authority of the second sentence of Article VII, section 9(b), Florida Constitution.
A municipal service taxing unit is not constitutionally nor functionally a special district. It is purely a mechanism by which a county can fund a particular service from a levy of ad valorem taxes, not countywide, but within all or a portion of the unincorporated areas. It is a tax equity tool available to a board of county commissioners within its legislative discretion to place the burden of ad valorem taxes uniformly within a geographic area less than countywide. In terms of function and accountability, it is no different from any other revenue source appropriated and budgeted by a county. In the county budget, the municipal service taxing unit is used to segregate the ad valorem taxes levied within the taxing unit to ensure that funds derived from such levy are used to provide the contemplated services within the boundaries of the taxing unit as required by section 125.01(1)(q), Florida Statutes. A municipal service taxing unit analogy is the transportation trust fund created under section 336.022, Florida Statutes, which is used under section 129.02(2), Florida Statutes, in the county budget to account for transportation-related revenues and expenditures.
Subject to the consent by ordinance of the governing body of the affected municipality, an MSTU may include all or a part of the boundaries of a municipality. Under the general constitutional millage limits of 10 mills for municipal purposes, the millage levied by MSTUs and the municipality may not exceed in the aggregate 10 mills.
The distinction between a municipal service taxing unit and a municipal service benefit unit is that “benefit unit” is the correct terminology when the mechanism used to fund the county service is a service charge or a special assessment rather than an ad valorem tax. Again, both units are similar in that a municipal service benefit unit is an alternative mechanism available to a board of county commissioners to identify a precise geographic area in which to impose such service charges and special assessments and is not a special district in function or in status. The municipal service benefit unit is used within the county budget to account for such special assessments and service charges to ensure that such funds are used to provide the county services for which they were imposed. As discussed subsequently, a special assessment can be imposed directly by a municipality by the county and there is no requirement that an MSTU be created.