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Senate bill targets local beaches

Senate Bill 1073 may impact Pensacola Beach.

Editorial

News Editor Jay Phillips

By Jay Phillips

Recently, our state’s Senators have shown support for Senate Bill 1073, which covers a tricky problem that has been deemed double-taxation. This bill could have a largely negative impact for both Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach and could cause drastic changes to the beaches we have all come to love.

The issue of double-taxation is what makes this bill such a conundrum. Beach owners are taxed for their property tax like anyone else, but in addition, they have to pay a lease fee. Originally, it was only the lease fee, but now that it’s both, some of our politicians want to take one of them away.

Which sounds fair.

Until you read into it.

This bill would give landowners the title instead of having them renew their lease and continue paying the fee. Which, of course, is the cheaper of the two taxes. One Gulf Front property owner, MaryAnn Phillips, said that she paid $9200 in property tax (which the county calls “ad valorem”) compared to a lease fee of $100 in 2016.

Which still doesn’t seem too bad because at least we’re still fixing this double-taxation problem, right? Well, there’s still more to the bill than that. This bill threatens some of the aspects of our beach, on both private and public land, that we have come to love.  

“Our beaches have a lot of conservation land, and we don’t allow property owners to combine lots. There is a danger that both of those things could change with this bill,” says Vicki Neapolitan Scott. Scott is the founder of Indivisible NWFL which is a group with the goals of electing a Democrat into Florida’s first district, increasing the amount of voters in the district and maintaining elected representative vigilance.

With the bill being worded the way it is, a lot of the conservation land we have could be changed as fast as it takes the county commissioner to sign a new law into action. Which actually isn’t a change from the way it is now, but without fixing that, this bill could put us into trouble by allowing potential property owners to combine lots. Currently this is not allowed.

If Senate Bill 1073 turns into law, it could result in the undeveloped conservation land, such as all of the land east of Navarre Beach around Eglin could be bought up and developed by condominium and strip mall developers.

“My prediction is that within two years, you would start to see plans for developing hotels and condos towards Navarre Beach and a movement to open up the Navarre pass,” said Phil Ehr, who strongly opposes this bill and who will be running against Rep. Gaetz for his seat in Congress next year.

This would cause the quaint, quiet beaches of Navarre Beach and Pensacola Beach to start looking more like Panama City Beach.

Scott says there’s a simple fix to all of this. It would not only fix the problem of double-taxation, but would leave everything else the way it is.

“Wave the lease fee on the land. All of the owners would still own their land, and no one will be double taxed,” she said.

These problems could likely be fixed with local tax reform that would only need to go as far as abolishing the extra taxes property owners on the beach are faced with. But if we’re not careful, our beach roads will soon be as cluttered as Destin’s rather than the pristine beaches the original developers intended.

Support for this bill has been somewhat quiet on the national level. Even though he has opposed it three times in the past, including just recently, Sen. Bill Nelson still joins Sen. Marco Rubio as the bill’s cosponsor.

Luckily, there has been firm opposition to the bill. The Democratic Executive Committee is working to pass a resolution against the bill. Local activists such as Dr. Thomas Campanella of the Santa Rosa Island Authority and Phil Ehr have used their platforms to speak out against it.

It is time to call out the behaviors of both of Florida’s U.S. Senators, Bill Nelson (D) and Marco Rubio (R), who are doing something that is against the will of most of their constituents.

Everyone who enjoys our public beaches should be concerned. Public land and national parks might not be something we appreciate every day, but they are one of the most amazing things about our country. We might not think we’ll miss it that much now, but if we have to start paying to use some condo’s private beach, I know I won’t be the only wishing for the good ol’ days.

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