Hon. Mayor and Commissioners,
City of DeLand,
120 S. Florida Ave.,
DeLand, FLA 32720.
To the Commission:
I should like the Commission to consider the proposed impact taxes for police and fire more carefully than is evident to date. Toward that end, I bring forth a few arguments neither made nor addressed by city staff.
I shall first discuss features specific to the fire and police impact taxes. Following that, I shall show that the manner of imposition of both proposed taxes is unreasonable, and that the apportionment formula is defective. Finally, I show that the impact tax requires present property owners to pay increased taxes on artifical value.
The fire impact tax proposal anticipates a little over one fifth of a call per house. Clearly this is statistical; one house will make a call, and roughly four others will not. No period of time is specified. For purposes of discussion, I shall consider only the house for which the call is made; the others may be presumed to be assessed without receiving any benefit.
There are two possibilities on expecting the average of one call (per five houses). Either a given house makes the call one time, after which having burned down it makes no more, or it makes one call per unit time. The assessment of a one-time fee is only reasonable if there is a single call, after which the house is presumed destroyed.
The alternative is that the (fraction of a) call per house is computed per unit time. This would be the case, for instance, if the fire impact tax also provided for services not related to a houses destruction. Examples might be first emergency medical response, feline arboreal rescue, and the like. These services may be expected to be used in some proportion to the served population, with such use continuing over time. With this alternative we expect some fraction of a call per house per unit time.
If the call is per unit time, then an impact tax is entirely unjustified. If we in fact expect some fraction of a call per house per year, then we are seeing a recurring expense. Below, I argue that recurring expenses ought to be funded through recurring levies.
The case of the police impact tax is clearer because there is no question of destruction of the property related to the call. We know that calls for police services will continue, and that such calls may be roughly proportioned to the population served.
Thus, we may figure that the fraction of a call per house for police is clearly to be seen over a unit of time, and we can easily compute the average number of calls per year we may expect from each house. This requires little other than a division of the number of calls to residential properties by the number of such properties within the municipal boundaries.
Payment for the capital expense of such calls is the subject of a recent successful bond referendum. Each property owner (including the owner of undeveloped property that would be subject to the impact tax upon construction) is paying now for the new police station.
The police impact is early a recurring expense: more residents will result in more calls for police service, and the increased demand for service will continue in perpetuity. Police calls are a recurring expense.
The fire impact is less clearly recurring; if one accepts that it funds more than a trip by the truck when the house burns down, then it does appear to be an on-going expense. It seems clear on its face that, for the significant portion of houses that do not burn down, the fire department will be required in perpetuity - though that requirement is accompanied by a desire that their actual services not be demanded. For purposes of this section, I shall assume that the fire impact tax is intended to refer to these recurring demands, rather than to a single call to water the ashes.
Normally, police and fire protection services are considered basic elements of a full-service city. These are traditional city services. The public expects these services to be provided, and their provision is so well settled that they are factored into insurance rate calculations.
The traditional method of funding traditional city services is through the annual property tax levy (the millage). The millage is a tax levied against the value of the property, on the twin theories that a grander property receives a greater benefit from the City, and that its owner is better able to pay. However, it must be understood that there is no legal connection between the millage levied and the service received: the property is subject to ad valorem taxation merely by virtue of being in the place, and can make no especial demand for service based upon payment of the levy.
With that understood, there appears to be little justification for the proposed impact tax. It will fund precisely the sort of services that are funded by the millage; it will provide no especial benefit to the property paying it; it provides a non-recurring revenue source for a recurring need.
Accordingly, the imposition of the proposed impact taxes is a poor fit to the public need, and should be abandoned. Further, it may be challenged by a developer because it is such a poor fit; all of the taxpayers should then be obliged to fund the lawyers fees to defend the impost.
The proposed impact tax is the same for each new property. The person building the $350,000 mansion will pay the exact same tax as the person building his first $35,000 shack. Of course the effect on the total price differs, being less than a tenth of a percent for the mansion and rather more on the shack.
It should also be noted that the mansion will receive greater benefit than the shack. Insurance is usually priced at so much per thousand, and the ruling component is traditionally based on the fire hazard and protection. Because the value is ten times as much for the mansion, it will receive ten times as much savings on the insurance, and yet the same impost shall be made against it as against the shack.
I note also that there are more valuables subject to theft and insurance in the mansion than in the shack; the argument parallels that for fire services.
These proposed imposts, falling hard on the poor and lightly on the rich, are of such a nature as to shock the conscience. A public policy of burdening the poor for the benefit of the rich is reprehensible; the Commission ought to be ashamed that such a thing has gotten this far. Legally, this will have little effect; I can think of no law in Florida overturned because it shocks the conscience.
An apportionment formula where the tax is graded according to the value of the property would correct the clear unfairness of the current proposal.
I, and many others, own improved real property in the City of DeLand. Those properties are assessed based on many factors, with the intent being that the resulting assessment should reflect the market value of the property less the costs of sale.
Market value of property is determined, in part, by what it would cost to obtain another. When the cost to build a new house goes up artificially, not based on the cost of construction, then the surrounding properties also have their values increased. As more houses are built subject to an impact tax, that is reflected in the sales prices of existing homes as well.
The fundamental value, a residential unit, has its price increased. Ultimately, my houses in DeLand will appear more valuable because of the impact tax, because they have the right to exist without paying the additional tax. However, because their value goes up, I shall be obliged to pay ad valorem taxes on the impact tax - and I shall be paying taxes on other peoples impact taxes for so long as I own my properties. I shall in fact be paying taxes not only to the City, but also to the County, the School Board, and each other taxing entity, all on the impact tax of the City.
The impact taxes are defective in concept, in that they seek a one-time impost to cover a recurring need. The calculations of amount to be levied are largely insupportable. The flat rate, shifting the burden for providing services from the rich to the poor, is unconscionable.
Accordingly, the Commission should reject the proposed impact taxes, and of rights ought also to order the consultants beaten about the heads and shoulders with a large dead fish. The City Manager may contact me for assistance in obtaining the fish.