EDITORIAL: Beaches in Walton County are worthless

 Photo courtesy of the North West Florida Daily News

Photo courtesy of the North West Florida Daily News


Before you get upset with us about today’s headline, let us explain.

“Worthless” isn’t to discount their beauty, how much people want to use them or how much people pay to live near them.

“Worthless” is about the actual monetary value of the beach when it comes to assessing the fair market value of property along the Gulf. It’s a real statement, not hyperbole, rhetoric or exaggeration. It’s not about projected sale prices. It’s about a calculation used to determine taxes paid on the land itself.

Customary use has become a hot-button topic along the shoreline in Walton County. For those of you who haven’t been keeping up, on July 1 some beaches in Walton County became closed to the public through a new law, H.B. 631. Property owners whose deeds are marked to the mean high-water line gained exclusive rights to use the dry sand on their respective properties. Bottom line, if you don’t own a house on the beach or aren’t part of a homeowners association along the beach, the places you can go to the beach have been limited under this law.

Customary use now is being claimed by several of the county’s residents. Customary use basically says that people always have used these beaches, well before anyone owned them, and that using these beaches is a right of all people.

And, yes, it’s complicated. And, yes, people are angry. And, yes, it’s going to cost the citizens of Walton County all a lot of money to settle.

But none of that money will come from property taxes paid by property owners for beach property. You see, this is about a lot of things — property rights, ego, beach behavior, money — but it isn’t about taxes.

Whether your property line stops at the dunes or goes down to the Gulf, your taxes aren’t different. That’s because any land beyond those dunes can’t be developed. There’s nothing you can do with it, so those lands, owned or not, do not impact property values.

The land value that determines the fair market value of these homes, thereby deciding how much tax should be paid for that land, is based on the amount of land owned at the Coast Construction Control Line. If both you and your neighbor have 180 feet of Gulf-facing land, and all things are equal with that land except that you own to the high mean-water line and your neighbor’s deed stops at the dunes, your land will have the same assessed value.

Obviously, that doesn’t mean your taxes are the same. What you’ve put on that land will impact your value, as will dozens of other factors in the state of Florida, but owning a deed to the beach’s dry sand doesn’t increase the value at all. It’s worthless.

The debates about customary use, property rights, use of eminent domain and public access to Florida’s beaches all continue to be appropriate. But it’s time to stop pretending any of this is about taxes.

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