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Florida officials predict state aid to poor counties will increase by $16.5M

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(The Center Square) — State officials say property tax offsets for Florida’s poorer counties will be $16.5 million greater than was appropriated in the state’s budget because of increased claims.

According to preliminary information of the 2023 tax roll from the Florida Department of Revenue’s Lisette Morales, the estimated claims for fiscally-constrained county reimbursements will reach around $74 million.

Conservation estimates remain on track and are just over $1 million, with an appropriation of $1.3 million. A tax impact of $8 million was previously expected from a large conservation parcel in one of the counties. However, this did not go through, according to Morales.

Morales also said on Tuesday that small counties have been performing in terms of growth, increasing in value by double-digits specifically for the past two years and many are significantly higher for school taxable value.

Counties eligible for designation as fiscally-constrained status must meet at least one of two criteria. Fiscally constrained counties are those where a 1 mill levy — which adds up to one dollar per $1,000 dollars of assessed value — would raise no more than $5 million in annual tax revenue or have been listed on the governor’s executive order as an area of economic concern.

Florida’s fiscally constrained counties are Baker, Bradford, Calhoun, Columbia, Desoto, Dixie, Franklin, Gadsden, Gilchrist, Glades, Gulf, Hamilton, Hardee, Hendry, Highlands, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Okeechobee, Putnam, Suwannee, Taylor, Union, Wakulla and Washington.

The vast majority of fiscally-constrained counties are in the Northern Central region of Florida. The conference projected that there will be a tremendous amount of growth in these counties into fiscal 2023-24, around 67.3%.

However, forecasts project that this will drop back into the negative and will remain that way until fiscal 2028-29, according to information shared by the Office of Economic and Demographic Research analyst Yiwen Yu.

It was noted by Morales, however, that the performance forecasts for small counties have been underestimated, and actual numbers show that these counties continue to grow by 10% to 15%, some by 25%. Migration into these counties, both from within the state and outside of it, continues to increase.

“We have seen migration into these counties from other places in Florida, people looking for land, more affordable housing…these counties are experiencing growth like we have not seen in quite some time,” Morales said.

The five largest counties in this group — Gulf, Putnam, Highlands, Franklin, and Columbia — have all outperformed the last conference projections estimating taxable value and according to the conference, because these counties are consistently under forecast, they are consistently under-appropriated.

EDR Coordinator Amy Baker proposed that the conference work towards adopting a forecast closer to the expected appropriations for fiscally-constrained counties in fiscal 2023-24, to an average of $70 million for forecasts in the future. The forecast will also take into account the unique conditions in rural areas.

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