In two unanimous votes at their Tuesday meeting, Bay County commissioners went on record against Amendment 4 and in favor of a new cell phone tower.
The proposed constitutional amendment will appear on next month's ballot and addresses property values, property taxes and homestead exemptions. According to Ed Smith, County Manager, the county stands to lose up to $4 million in property tax revenue over four years if the amendment passes.
Some groups in the state – including realtors – say the measure will create jobs and help sell properties.
Chairman George Gainer said Amendment 4 will give unfair tax breaks to non-resident owners. "The permanent residents here, the homeowners here, will face higher taxes if this is passed," he said. "We've done a great job keeping taxes low… this takes it out of our hands and this is something that I can't see the people of Bay County benefiting from."
In other business, the commission held a public hearing on a developer's request to construct a 180 foot tall cell phone tower at the west end of Panama City Beach. The Planning Commission recently denied the request because the tower will be only 57 feet from property lines – less than the 90 feet required by ordinance.
Several dozen citizens representing Pinnacle Port, Carillon Beach and Wild Heron attended the hearing to support the developer's appeal and cited a need for improved cell service.
A handful of others were there to oppose the request. They said better service is needed, but the proposed tower location will have a negative effect on their property values.
"You can't tell me that you can be in your house two hundred and ninety feet from the base of that almost two hundred foot tower looking at it [and] that it's not going to devalue your property," said Jack Shea, who owns nine parcels in the Jamaican Way development. "That just doesn't even make good common sense to me."
"I think it's the right thing to do," argued Robert Hughes, the attorney for the appellant, AW Solutions on behalf of Sunbird Management Company. "These people are entitled to have good cell service out there… not only our permanent residents but our tourists that come and stay."
In reversing the Planning Commission's decision, the board said public safety was a factor in their decision. Several residents expressed fears that poor cell phone service could put them at risk during an emergency.