Florida Keys News
Wednesday, October 3, 2012
Group to manage UMK park

ISLAMORADA -- A unanimous Village Council last week approved an operating agreement for Upper Matecumbe Key's Southwinds Park property and passed a resolution expressing opposition to a property tax amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.

"The overwhelming support we have received thus far without even having a project has been very humbling, and after we get started we think it's going to snowball," J.C. Mikula, chairman of The Islamorada Foundation, said moments before the council finalized the Southwinds operating agreement on Sept. 27.

Under the five-year deal, the foundation assumes management responsibilities of the 1.1-acre property, located at mile marker 82.1, between the Overseas Highway and the Old Highway.

Notably, the foundation will be tasked with maintaining and developing the site, which the village acquired in a grant from the state in 2005. The agreement also includes options for up to five extensions of five years each.

Turning over the maintenance responsibilities will save the village approximately $10,000 per year in cost and staff time, Parks Director John Sutter said at the Sept. 27 meeting.

The operating agreement still needs official approval from the state. But assuming it goes through, The Islamorada Foundation plans to get to work quickly, Mikula said. First up will be landscaping work and a drinking fountain, with visible improvements expected before Thanksgiving.

Priorities for 2013 include slides and a swing set, as well as park signs, including interpretative markers with information on local flora.

A walking path, benches, parking and a pavilion are also planned for the site.

So far, the park centerpiece has not been decided upon. But Mikula said it will pay homage to local fishermen.

Work on the entire park will be undertaken as funding becomes available, he added.

Also last week, council members took a united stand against Amendment 4 on the Nov. 6 election ballot.

The amendment to the Florida Constitution would make three major changes to state property tax law.

First, it would reduce the maximum allowable increase on the taxable valuable of a non-homesteaded property from 10 percent in a given year to 5 percent.

Second, it would prevent appraiser's offices from increasing the taxable value of a property during a year when market prices decline, unless the property had been improved over the course of that year. The move would halt what is called "recapture," the process in which a homesteaded property that has enjoyed a 3 percent annual cap on the increase in its taxable value during a boom catches up to the market during a bust cycle.

And third, for those who haven't owned a home in at least three years, it would provide a homestead exemption on 50 percent of the new home's value, up to the median home price in the property's county. Currently, new homebuyers get the same $50,000 homestead exemption for which other primary homebuyers are eligible. The additional exemption would gradually phase out beginning the sixth year after the property is purchased.

Supporters of Amendment 4 say it will grow Florida's economy. A study conducted by the conservative think tank Florida TaxWatch, for example, found that the amendment would lead to approximately 350,000 more home sales over 10 years, create 19,500 jobs over the same timeframe and increase personal wealth by $5.3 billion.

But opponents, including municipalities, say it will gut budgets, leading either to a reduction in government services or a higher tax burden on full-time residents.

An analysis by the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities concluded that at present tax rates, Amendment 4 would cost local governments $1 billion over three years, with much of that money being saved by out-of-state second homeowners.

Council members sounded off on the amendment before passing the resolution in opposition to it last week.

"This is more than dangerous," Councilman Dave Purdo said. "This thing's really explosive and it can hurt everyone from the wealthy to the poor."


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