MANATEE COUNTY -- On Monday night, Fox 13 investigative reporter Doug Smith took a look at Manatee County Commissioner Larry Bustle's war veteran property tax exemption. Bustle is only one of four veterans in Manatee that file for that exemption, which was part of an amendment to help struggling veterans keep their homes. Except in Bustle's case, it ends up allowing him to avoid up to $7,900 a year in taxes on his million dollar waterfront mansion, which he's paid as little as $120 in annual taxes on in recent years.
At a BOCC meeting two weeks ago, Doug Smith caught up with Commissioner Bustle for a few questions (video below). Smith asked Bustle if he considered himself 90 percent disabled, which is his rating from the VA. Bustle said that he didn't set the ratings, and enjoys the tax break that was put into law back in 2006.
"There's a lot of criteria, and it just so happens that I fit the criteria," said Bustle to Smith. Bustle later said, "I served my country, and my country decided, and my state decided, that this was a valid thing to do and therefore I'm quite happy with it." When asked if he thought it looked bad, Bustle said, not at all.
Florida State Senator, Mike Fasano (R-New Port Richey) who helped create the legislation said, "Common sense should tell you that that person should not be taking advantage of getting that benefit. Even though they are due that benefit, they don't need it."
Doug Smith asked Manatee County Commissioner Robin DiSabatino if she would take the discount, and she answered, "I would not. I don't think it is fair, and I wouldn't be able to live with myself if I did that."
The average property tax bill in Manatee County is $955.00 for property valued at $150,000. The average annual salary In Manatee is $35,000. Roughly three percent of one's annual salary goes to pay their property tax. Commissioner Bustle gets a $75,000 annual salary with a near $20,000 compensation package, much of which is paid from resident property taxes. His property, which includes a 600-foot dock extending out into the mouth of the Manatee River, is valued at about six times the average $150,000 value for the county. The $120 tax bill is a little over one tenth of one percent of Bustle's salary, which is not including other incomes like retirement pension and disability.
There was a year in which he paid $200, almost $400 another, and one around $900. In 2008, Bustle enjoyed a property tax savings of $7,900 because of the waiver.
Fasano says the legislation was designed to help vets struggling to keep their houses. Bustle's house is valued at a little over one million dollars and it's not clear to what amount his contributes to the overall value. But clearly, every year Commissioner Bustle pays only 10 percent of what would otherwise be his tax bill, 90 percent less than he asks other Manatee County property owners to pay when he votes on their millage rate. See the Fox 13 segment below.
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