DeSantis puts property tax payments on hold for Ian-damaged homes, businesses

By MICHAEL MOLINE, Florida Phoenix, Oct 20, 2022.

Gov. Ron DeSantis announced Thursday that he is extending deadlines for paying property taxes on residential and commercial buildings “that were destroyed or otherwise rendered uninhabitable” by Hurricane Ian.

The idea is to pause tax payments in 26 counties until the Legislature can convene before the end of the year to pass a relief package into law. The House and Senate leaders who will take control following the November elections “are eager to come back to be able to make this relief permanent for the victims of Hurricane Ian, particularly those who had a total loss of their home or of their business,” DeSantis said.

“I do not have the ability as governor to eliminate property tax obligations, so this will delay the payment dates. And the reason why we’re doing that is we want to give us time so that the Legislature can come in sometime after the election but before the end of the year and provide rebates for the affected homeowners and property owners,” the governor said.

The Legislature has already passed legislation providing tax relief for storm-damaged structures but it doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1, DeSantis said.

“So, we’re going to make that retroactive; we’re going to make sure that relief is there,” he said.

Additionally, the Legislature will consider whether additional aid “to help communities that have been affected, particularly here in Southwest Florida.” That could include payments to offset property tax losses to local governments that rely on them to provide essential services, DeSantis said.

He also plans additional but as yet unstated reforms to the property insurance system. The Legislature approved a reform package during a special session earlier this year but that has done little to arrest spiraling premiums. The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation estimates Ian-related claims at nearly $6.5 billion.

26 counties

The governor issued an executive order delaying the due date for 2022 assessments to Jan. 1, 2023 the date they are deemed delinquent to June 1 that year, among other revisions to due dates and discounts for early payments.

“The last thing I think we want is, you know, someone loses their home and then they are getting hit up for property taxes on a home that doesn’t exist anymore,” DeSantis said.

The rebates would be available to property owners in 26 counties eligible for personal assistance through the Federal Emergency Management Agency: Brevard, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Flagler, Glades, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lake, Lee, Manatee, Monroe, Okeechobee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Sarasota, Seminole, St. Johns and Volusia.

In Lee County alone, property appraiser Matt Caldwell estimated that 100,000 of the 550,000 property parcels on the books “are going to have to be significantly reviewed over the next eight months.”

Meanwhile, FEMA announced that the federal government has provided more than $1 billion in Ian-related aid: $545 million in household assistance and $302 to the state for emergency response and recovery. In addition, the Small Business Administration has given $130 million in disaster loans and National Flood Insurance Program has paid $98 million in claims.

Fashionably late

Fentrice Driskell, a Hillsborough County Democrat slated to lead her party’s House caucus, said DeSantis has been late to address the severity of the insurance crisis.

“The governor and the Legislature played culture war politics while the media reported story after story about the housing insurance market,” Driskell said in a written statement.

“We’re glad Gov. DeSantis is finally on board with what Florida Democrats have been saying the whole time: Our property insurance market is in crisis and Floridians are suffering. I’m just sorry it took a hurricane to get him to act,” she continued.

“Obviously, we will need to see what they propose. Our last special session was specifically about property insurance, and it didn’t even come close to solving the problem. We’ll need to see specific plans and how they’ll actually help the people of Florida. This is not the time for half-measures.”