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A TRIM primer: No two tax bills the same

A TRIM primer: No two tax bills the same

STAFF REPORT, Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission.

The Truth in Millage notices mailed to 210,000 landowners from the Charlotte County Appraiser’s Office Monday are a statutorily required headsup explaining, among other things, your share of local governments’ proposed 2007 budgets.

Whether you believe it is fair or not, what you pay is based to a large degree on a series of choices made by you, and your bill is as unique as the choices you made.

No two county tax bills are identical.

How much you paid for your home, when you bought it and where it is are only the beginning of the list of choices you made, consciously or otherwise, that affect your tax bill.

Is your home connected to central water and sewer services, or does it rely on an independent well and septic system?

Is the street where you bought your home paved or is it surfaced with compressed seashells?

Does it have sidewalks or bicycle paths? Is it lighted? Is it near the beach? Is it on a navigable canal? Does it become submerged after every summer storm, or does it have a drainage system to carry away summer rains quickly?

Is your home within the city limits of Punta Gorda, which provides some public services of its own? Does your property even have a home on it?

There are almost as many factors, almost as many services, amenities and improvements as there are ways and means to pay for them —countywide taxes, special assessments, user fees, surcharges, dedicated trust funds, state allocations and federal grants, to name a few.

And, as in everything else, you get what you pay for.

But budgeting for the county’s needs is not as simple as dividing up the total cost of all county services and projects between all county residents — a method which, based on 2005’s population projections, would mean a basic tax bill of $4,884.04 for every man, woman and child in Charlotte County.

Understanding TRIM

With its columns of figures and descriptions utilizing an arcane vocabulary, it is understandable some county taxpayers may find their TRIM notice a bit daunting.

The TRIM notice is a sneak peek at what your tax bill will look like if local governments — Charlotte County, Punta Gorda and the Charlotte County School Board — and nearly 125 other taxing agencies approve their budgets as proposed.

The TRIM points this out by posting last year’s taxes and assessments in left-side columns, and the proposed increases or decreases in rightside columns.

The TRIM shows the market and taxable values of your property calculated by proposed tax rates — also known as millage rates. It shows the taxes you will be expected to pay, and the names and contact information for taxing authorities that will receive your money.

In addition to the county, the city and the school district, taxing agencies include the Southwest Florida Water Management District, community development districts and more than 50 municipal service benefit units.

If you have any questions concerning these additional components of your bill, you should directly contact the taxing authorities listed on your notice.

As you can see, much of your tax bill will be paid to taxing authorities other than the county or city governments.

Much of the proposed expenditures found in the county’s budget, for instance, are financed by assessments, which are fees paid by residents in MSBUs for services only they will receive.

As a result, only a small portion of the county’s preliminary $800 million budget is actually financed by the countywide taxes assessed on all county property owners.

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