They’ll Take Your Land Away
By Tayra Antolick

Can you believe that the current system of funding county government through ad valorem taxes on real property violates both our federal and state constitutions?  Before you hear yourself say, “Here writes another kook,” hear me out and ponder. Go to your friendly government office, ask for a Florida Constitution, and look up Article I Section 2, Article VII Sections 1 and 9, and Article VIII Section 1. The most important of these is Article I Section 2, which states that the acquisition, possession, and protection of property are “inalienable rights.”  Have you seen these words before?  These are the words indelibly written in the Declaration of Independence. This means that owning property is as fundamental as those enumerated in the Bill of Rights.  What that means to the Supreme Court of the United States is that when the legislature enacts a law that adversely affects a fundamental right, the state must show a compelling interest, and the means by which the interest is achieved must be the least restrictive.  Are property taxes, a.k.a. ad valorem taxes on real property (by which they take your land if you don’t pay), the least restrictive means to fund county governments? I say no.

First of all, Article VII Section 1 prohibits the state to levy ad valorem taxes on real property. Article VIII Section 1(a) states that a county is a political subdivision of the state of Florida.  Here is where our county attorney will proclaim, “the state legislature has delegated to counties the power and authority to levy property taxes.” Has it really? Section 9 of Article VII states that counties shall levy ad valorem taxes (without explicitly defining them) “except ad valorem taxes on intangible personal property AND taxes prohibited by this constitution.” Which are the taxes prohibited by this constitution? Ad valorem taxes on real property to name one.  Does that bother you? It should.

For those of you who own land in Putnam County but do not live here, there is another violation. The Constitution of the United States guarantees “a republican form of government;” that is, a representative form of government. That’s Article IV Section 4 for those interested.  However, do you get to vote for the county commissioners who make the ordinances concerning your property and may take it from you in violation of the Florida Constitution?  No, you don’t. Are you, therefore, represented? No, you are not. Does that sound like taxation without representation and reminiscent of a famous Tea Party in Boston?  It sure does to me.  Does it bother you?  It should.

Contrary to the assessment Helen L. Googe, the supervisor of the delinquent tax department, made of my husband complaining that he “protests everything” (without knowing him or answering his letters), he is not a tax protestor.  He protests illegal governmental activity and demands accountability. Of course the county needs funding, but it must not violate our inalienable rights in such a way that it is the MOST restrictive, i.e., taking away our land.  Make people pay for services rendered, Mrs. Googe and Mr. Mahaffey. And if they don’t, take them to court for breach of contract and turn them over to a collection agency. Attach the services to the people, not to the land, so that if misfortune befalls any one, at least he or she would still has the land on which to rebuild, as Scarlet O’Hara famously consoled herself concerning Tara in Gone With The Wind.

What are some least restrictive means to fund county government? First, privatize as much as possible. Second, have everyone in the county, not just property owners, pay for county services.  In this way, there is equal protection under the law guaranteed in the Fourteenth Amendment.

Concerning those who abused 9-11 funds, Secretary of the Treasury Paul O’Neal said that people who deal fraudulently should be put in jail. How can people sleep at night who do such things?  I pose the same question to Putnam County government officials. If exposing governmental fraud is “protest” then so be it. That’s not our definition. To us, exposing governmental fraud is our duty. This country was born in the blood of protest and we are all proud of it, aren’t we? Now you know; now you are accountable. Want to do something about it? You should.  Start by “protesting” at the Tax Certificate Sale this week, where your neighbor’s wealth will be plundered with your help, if you do nothing. God Bless America.

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Last Modified June 22, 2002