Tax Breaks for the Wealthiest Community in America: Fisher Island

This interesting report was forwarded to me today by a reader:

June 12, 2007

Fisher Island Homeowners Cost Public Coffers Millions, New SEIU Report Shows

Miami, FL—, Fisher Island homeowners have aggressively used the system to reduce the assessed value of their property on the exclusive island by a cumulative total of more than $965 million from 2002-2005 alone. That has resulted in a loss to the County of an estimated $15.2 million in tax revenues over this three year period; —a particularly staggering amount given that there are only 800 properties on Fisher Island, a new study by SEIU finds. (To download the report, go to www.seiu11.org)

The report underscores the inequity that thrives on the island. At the same time that island residents use the system to reduce the amount they pay into the public coffers, they augment the demand for public services by paying their workers so little that many must seek out public help to provide health care and other services for their families.

While Fisher Island homeowners worked the system to reduce their tax payments, workers on the island like Christiana Monestine saw the market value of her home increased by 27%. Although the increase in her home’s taxable value was capped at 3% by the Save Our Homes exemption, her taxes still rose by about $300. Christiana, a housekeeper on the island who earns $8.50 an hour, can barely afford to absorb the higher cost. “To a resident of Fisher Island, $300 is dinner at the club, but to families living in poverty and struggling to make ends meet the additional taxes could cost them their home,” the report says.

The study, “Fisher Island: Rich Play, Poor Pay: How Rich Fisher Island Residents Challenge Property Tax Assessments for Big Breaks, While Miami-Dade’s Poor Can’t Afford to Pay to Play,” analyzes property tax assessment records for the island during a four-year period, from 2002-2005. “The very system of challenges and appeals meant to ensure fair property tax assessments has turned into a pay-to-play scheme in South Florida that allows the rich to win big tax breaks while middle-class and low-income homeowners struggle with the rising insurance and tax costs of owning a home,” the report concludes.

According to the report:

* The small, exclusive Fisher Island is not only the wealthiest community in the County by far; it is in fact the wealthiest community in the nation, with residents having an average net worth of around $10 million.
* While Miami-Dade County homeowners saw their property values increase an average of 90% from 2002 to 2005(roughly 9.3% for those who qualified for the Save Our Homes rate cap), Fisher Island property owners saw their values increase only 7% over the same period.
* From 2002 to 2005, appeals were filed for 76% of Fisher Island properties at least once, and in some cases every one of those four years.
* From 2002 to 2005, properties worth more than $1 million on Fisher Island received breaks of over 5% from the VAB fully 85 times.
* Many or most Fisher Island property owners apparently send representatives each and every year to argue for lower assessments and then—regardless of the outcome of these informal conferences—direct those representatives to file VAB appeals in an attempt to further decrease their assessments.

On June 15, workers on the Island campaigning for higher wages and health insurance will lead a march to Fisher Island, to highlight the extreme income inequality that currently plagues our country. For more information visit www.SEIU11.org.

To download the report go to http://www.seiu11.org.

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