Article published Feb 27, 2007
Group sues over Save Our Homes
Owners of second homes ask judge to stop assessment cap
By Aaron Deslatte
FLORIDA CAPITAL BUREAU
A group of Alabama residents with second homes in the Panhandle have filed a class-action suit asking a Leon County judge to throw out the state's Save Our Homes property-assessment cap.
The four Alabama residents with second homes in Walton and Okaloosa counties are asking that back taxes be refunded to thousands of Florida's non-homesteaded homeowners.
They contend the assessment cap passed by voters in 1992 unconstitutionally shifted ''more than a reasonable and fair share of the infrastructure demands of Florida'' onto snowbirds and second homeowners.
''The property taxes have increased fairly significantly over the last few years,'' said Jerome Lanning, a retired real-estate lawyer from Birmingham, Ala., who owns property in Walton and Franklin counties.
''I'm not sure that comports with our constitutional scheme.''
Lanning and his wife, Joyce, are named plaintiffs along with Diana Slaughter, whose husband is a high-school classmate of Jerome Lanning, and Marlow Reese of Montgomery, Ala.
The suit asks the court to refund non-homesteaded homeowners for the taxes they've been assessed since 2003 above what they would have paid with the same Save Our Homes protection as full-time residents.
The suit is believed to be the first of its kind challenging the legal standing of the Save Our Homes amendment, which limits assessed value increases on the homes of full-time homeowners.
They ask the court to order Gov. Charlie Crist to appoint a ''special master'' who would oversee the calculation of refunds for all seasonal homeowners.
Crist and lawmakers have floated ideas for cutting property taxes this year, from making Save Our Homes ''portable'' for full-time residents to abolishing all property tax on homesteaders.
But snowbirds have flocked to property-tax reform hearings that lawmakers have hosted around the state, and many have threatened to file similar suits.
''There are many people who are very frustrated about the tax system who have made insinuations that this is what they'd do,'' said Senate Finance and Tax Chairman Mike Haridopolos, an Indialantic Republican leading the reform hearings.
''This is a product of the frustration people are feeling.''