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Conservation Lands Hurting Small Counties

February 17th, 2009 by Mike Vasilinda

Floridas small counties are pushing lawmakers to offset tax breaks given to land owners. Voters approved the breaks last November, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the breaks are driving the counties into the red.

Hear it Here: Conservation Land

Scenic Jefferson County faces a problem all small counties are facing. Thousands of acres are being taken off the tax rolls because of voter approved Amendment 4. The amendment lets land owners to put property into conservation and avoid taxes. Leonard Bembry represents 10 small counties.

When you talk about the percentage of money that they have to educate their children with, the impact is tremendous, Bembry said.

Schools here are almost broke. Bembry wants lawmakers to reimburse small counties when land is taken off the tax rolls.

There are more than a dozen small counties scattered across the state that are all worried about losing their tax base if large chunks of land go into conservation.

36 thousand privately held acres are already off the rolls in Jefferson. Another 140 thousand acres could be. Media mogul Ted Turner is one of the countys biggest land owners.

We dont reduce the taxes on our land when we put conservation easements on it, Turner said. No, we may put it under protection but we dont intend to pay less taxes.

Former State Senator Kurt Kiser moved to Jefferson 8 years ago because of its rural nature. He says small counties will survive.

Its going to preserve the rural way of life and the really nice farms and acreage that we have out here now, Kisner said. So I think its going to help improve the tax role eventually.

The real tax crunch for small counties hits next January.

Just under three hundred thousand acres are already under private conservation efforts across the state. 1 of every 8 acres is in Jefferson County.

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