Tanner Andrews

They call these things “truth in millage” notices. Since it is politicians, you should be on the alert for something untruthful here.

For years, these notices omitted the actual millage, feeling that that was too much truth. However, lately, they do include a proposed millage. Cheers to the West Volusia Hospital Authority for a serious reduction in theirs.

Lake Helen has not done so well. Sure, the taxes are increasing, but there is no truth in their millage. The lies are accomplished through what we call special assessments.

At one time, special assessments were charged where a property enjoyed a special benefit. For instance, if they put in a special drainage system in your block, or if the neighborhood asked for extra streetlights, that might be deemed special.

Now, special can mean the entire city. For instance, Lake Helen charges a special assessment for fire. And they charge one for garbage. And they charge one for rain.

OK, I thought it rained upon the just and the unjust, and that the city really did not control that. Nevermind, there is still a $200 charge in Lake Helen. The TRIM notice only mentions $41.70 of it, an advertised increase of 12 percent, with extra billing for the other $158.30, an actual increase of 438 percent.

And I know about garbage: The advertised increase is a little more than $10. The extra increase of $144.19 is not mentioned at all on the TRIM notice. Instead of a modest increase of 4 percent, the real increase is actually 60 percent.

No wonder they do not want to put that on the TRIM notice. These special assessments do not feel very special when applied to everyone. The guy in the mansion may be happy, because he gets a relative bargain. A standard $100,000 home with $50,000 exempt pays $342.50 in city taxes, and $867.96 in special assessments.

Best of all, the city will direct-bill you. It will still show up as a tax lien if you do not have a few hundred extra dollars sitting around. And you cannot have the usual discounts for installments and early payment.

These special assessments act as regressive taxes. Think of it as an updated Robin Hood: Take from the poor to subsidize the rich. And that helps us know what the Lake Helen commissioners are thinking — the “Gem of Florida” now prices itself like diamonds.

— Andrews is a DeLand-area attorney and a longtime government critic. For purposes of the column, he finds it convenient that there is so much government to criticize.

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