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Why would anyone want to pick a particular political party to register with in Florida? The simple answer is that you are more likely to be able to vote on things you care about by registering with a political party. 

Florida is a Closed Primary State. In a closed primary system, only party members can vote in primary elections. The sole exception to this rule is when no candidates from other parties qualify for the race. 

A perfect example occurred in the 2020 District 5 Okaloosa County Commissioner election. Four candidates, Mel Ponder, Rich Johnson, Parker Destin, and Wes Fell, initially chose to run as Republicans. But Wes Fell, for reasons known only to himself and God, decided to take his name out of the hat for the primary and run as an unaffiliated candidate in the general election. That meant the other three candidates ran in the primary with only Republican voters. The general election pitted the primary winner (Ponder) against Fell. Republicans got to vote in two elections (the primary in the general), and everyone else (No party affiliation, Democrats, Socialists, Libertarians, etc.) only got to choose between Ponder and Fell. 

If you want to have as much say as possible in the electoral process, you’ll want to register with a party. If you want to have as much say as possible in local partisan politics around Okaloosa County, you will want to register as a Republican. Typically, most candidates in Okaloosa County will register as Republicans. Occasionally, you will get a Democrat running for state house or senate. I (Christopher, the writer) have never seen a Libertarian, Socialist or any other third-party candidate run for a local or state legislative office in Okaloosa County. 

The numbers change slightly depending on the time of the year or other variables, but the Supervisor of Elections Office reports as of February 20th, there are:

  • 24,616 Democrats | 17%
  • 82,031 Republicans | 57%
  • 37,503 Others | 26%

There are several types of taxes residents and passers through of Niceville, Valparaiso and other places in Okaloosa County pay over the course of the year. Each of those taxes are determined by a different group of elected or appointed officials. 

 

On every sale, in theory, that takes place in Okaloosa County – the county levies a 7% sales tax. Most of that money goes to the state, which then redistributes it among the various cities and counties through its budget cycle. .5% of that 7% goes to the Okaloosa County School District and .5% of that money goes to fund the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners. 

 

Other taxes like the hotel bed tax, which is paid solely by vacationers, or the business license tax make up the rest of non-property tax revenues for the county government. 

 

Property Taxes

 

But the tax most people want to talk about when it comes to local government are property taxes. These taxes, represented in mills or dollars per thousand dollars in value (you can calculate yours here) fund local government functions, schools, and the Water Management District (I hadn’t ever heard of it either). 

 

Homeowners who live, or homestead, at their properties in Okaloosa County are entitled to a homestead exemption of $50,000. This means their home is taxed at a value of $50,000 less than its appraised value. Depending on the value of the home and its location the savings will vary. Other exemptions on home taxes for older people, disabled veterans and the like can add up as well. Be sure to check the Okaloosa County Property Appraiser’s Office to ensure you are not missing out on those exemptions. 

 

For the most part, the largest amount of money you will owe to any one entity will go to the Okaloosa County School District. The district currently has a millage rate of 5.477, which means a $500,000 home the owner claims as their main residence would be taxed at about $2,600 annually. This rate is determined by an elected school board made up of five members. Each member of the board is from a different geographic district around the county. Residents vote for all five members of the board. Only residents of the geographic district can run for that district’s seat. 

 

The next most expensive tax rate on a tax bill will most likely be a city tax, if you live in either Niceville or Valparaiso – though the East Niceville and North Bay Fire Districts are not much cheaper and provide far fewer services. In all four of these governmental units, all residents vote for all seats of the board, regardless of where they live. All residents can run for any seat on these councils, commissions or boards – provided they live in the governmental unit’s boundaries. For example, you can’t live in the East Niceville Fire District and run for Niceville City Council. 

 

Two of the smaller bills you might see on your tax rate are the Parks MSTU and the Northwest Florida Water Management District. 

 

The Parks Municipal Services Taxing Unit (MSTU) is a tax that the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners levy on residents in certain, more developed, areas of the county that are not inside a city’s borders. An MSTU allows the county to give some limited city-like services to residents in areas that pay those taxes. In the residents of Bluewater Bay, Seminole and East Niceville’s case; the MSTU funds the creation and maintenance of parks in unincorporated Okaloosa County near them. 

 

The Northwest Florida Water Management District is a board, appointed by the Governor of Florida, works to preserve water resources in an area that spans from the Perdido River to the St. Mark’s River just to the east of Tallahassee. The total cost of their budget is spread amongst the roughly 1.5 million residents of the area, meaning it has a much lower bill per taxpayer. 

 

Finally, you will have a set amount to go over to the Okaloosa County Board of County Commissioners. This money goes to fund emergency management, roads and bridges maintained by the county, planning and zoning and other functions. Like the school board, all eligible voters in Okaloosa County can vote for all five district representatives, but only residents of each district can run for that district’s seat. 

 

Now, an exercise – Let’s say you have a $500,000 home with a homestead tax exemption that you live in. Here is what it would cost you in annual taxes to live in each of the four areas we cover here at Mid Bay News:

 

East Niceville Fire District | $6,000.52

  • County | $1,723.86
  • School District | $2,601.58
  • Northwest Florida Water Management District | $10.53
  • Parks MSTU | $134.55
  • East Niceville Fire District | $1,530.00

Niceville | $6,135.97

  • County | $1,723.86
  • School District | $2,601.58
  • Northwest Florida Water Management District | $10.53
  • City of Niceville | $1,800.00

North Bay Fire District | $5,492.02

  • School District | $2,601.58
  • Northwest Florida Water Management District | $10.53
  • Parks MSTU | $134.55
  • North Bay Fire District | $1021.50

Valparaiso | $6,596.77

  • County | $1,723.86
  • School District | $2,601.58
  • Northwest Florida Water Management District | $10.53
  • City of Valparaiso | $2,260.80

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