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Why businesses want to have a say

Now I know.

I have always wondered why some business people in Chiefland were so adamant in their position that business property owners should be able to vote in city elections.

I thought it was because they would cut their taxes to the bone, end all regulation and have a free-for-all running roughshod over the city's leaders and residents.

With the recent discussion about Chiefland's money situation and a little research I have come to another conclusion.

That's because businesses pay the bills in Chiefland.

The owners of improved commercial property pay 67 percent of the city's property taxes, according to information provided by the Levy County Property Appraiser's office in response to requests from the Chiefland Citizen.

Among owners of improved residential property, 1,140 pay less than $200 in city taxes. Out of that number, 239 pay $0. That's because with the basic $50,000 in homestead exemptions, the property's assessed value falls below or just above the $50,000 benchmark. Those residents get the same city services as the 131 improved commercial property owners who pay more than $1,000 in taxes.

I don't know about you, but I would be willing to bet it is the residents, more so than the businesses in Chiefland, who expect the police, fire, water, sewer, garbage, animal control, road maintenance and building services offered by the city to be top-notch in return for what could be called bargain property tax rates.

Of course, Walmart, with its high number of petty crimes is among the Chiefland Police Department's biggest customers, and paid $38,555.16 in city taxes on its three parcels. That's about the salary (with $10,000 for benefits) of an officer.

And while homeowners have an array of exemptions like $25,000 right off the top, then another $25,000 for intangibles and maybe $5,000 for veterans and more for low-income seniors, widows and widowers, disabled persons, blind persons, disabled former military, deployed military, and surviving spouses of military veterans and first responders, businesses get one exemption: $25,000. Walmart claimed that on only one of its three parcels.

The thing is, I cannot total the number of times the commission has said it wants to be business friendly. It keeps business license fees low, permit fees low, doesn't even want to have a tree ordinance. You want a parking lot without any shade, go for it. The first thing they did when the recession hit was to repeal city impact fees. You want to put up a business or subdivision? We won't make you pave the road, pay for sewers or drainage or police service. Just build it.

The problem for business owners in Chiefland is while they pay the bills they do not get a say in who determines how that money will be spent.

The thought here is that if the Chiefland commissioners fail to listen and respond to the concerns of merchants, they face the possibility of them taking their business elsewhere.

But that is unlikely to happen as business owners have a lot of investment sunk into the city and they cannot just move the bricks, mortar and land. And Chiefland, as the axis of the Tri-County Area, proves the old business axiom that it's all about location, location, location. That's why businesses come to Chiefland. And that is why they suffer the penalties of paying more property taxes and, possibly, higher water, sewer and garbage rates than homeowners.

But here is what I do not understand after delving into this thing of city taxes: Why do the commissioners say they are always hearing from residents that their taxes need to be cut or stay low? Why, in the light of this information on who is footing the city's bills, would the commissioners call themselves “business friendly”?

What is more odd is that some of the city's prominent business owners have been attending commission meetings for more than a year expressing doubts that the city can continue to live on a 5-year-old tax plan of 4.75 mills with ever-shrinking property values that leave it with less revenue every year. 

The commission has been reluctant to respond to those concerns.

However, the city staff, at the July 8 meeting made it abundantly clear why the commissioners cannot continue to ignore the city's financial situation.

Of course, I understand why the business folks would love to have voting power. They are the ones saying you don't have to have the No. 1 city in services in the country.

You just have to have leadership with the fortitude to ensure the burden is borne equitably and the integrity to not vote on their re-election chances.