During their July 8th meeting, St Augustine City Commissioners seated the final two remaining members to a seven-member blue-ribbon committee; impaneled to make recommendations about the future of short-term rentals in a congested and controversial market.
One sitting commissioner, John Valdes, has been the focus of close scrutiny on this topic because of his own investment properties brought to light after a presentation by St Johns County Property Appraiser Eddie Creamer.
The Property Appraiser’s office is attempting to garner support from all taxing authorities and districts within the county in order to launch a new collection initiative by an independent agent who will help identify fraudulently claimed homestead tax exemption. Property owners who do not qualify but have been taking the $50,000 deduction from their ad valorem tax bill, will pay the cost of administration, not the county.
Valdes immediately drew attention to himself when he engaged Creamer in a “hypothetical” scenario, heard by many to suggest that if a property owner didn’t mean to cheat the county out of its clearly due tax revenue, the Property Appraiser might have “discretion” to look the other way *wink wink* and not to charge the penalties and fines mandated by law. Creamer nipped the suggestion in the bud, advising Valdes that the charges are not styled “may be enforced” but rather “must be enforced”.
Citizens on social media websites started criticizing a specific short-term rental controlled by Valdes whose address had been intentionally obfuscated to distract those who might be looking for such a violation. One Historic City News reader sent an anonymous Letter to the Editor, complaining of certain details of which they had become aware when looking at properties owned by commissioners that were claiming Homestead Exemption.
This time on the related issue of short-term rentals, in which Valdes is involved and has never denied, he made a last-minute unsuccessful bid that could restrict the free investigation of facts brought to the commission.
“There is tremendous interest in the community,” Valdes said of the short-term rental market. “I’m wondering if we shouldn’t be listening to the community at large and let them all have input, rather than a committee.”
Apparently, Valdes already forgot that it was okay to seat a “Contextualization Committee”, hand-picked by City Manager John Regan, to judge what words were best to add, true or false, to the 140-year-old cenotaph erected by the Ladies Memorial Association of St Augustine. So why would an issue close to him cause concern if it was made subject to the recommendations of a “committee”?
“We need to move quicker on this,” Valdes said Monday night, suggesting that it might be time to take a closer look into Valdes’ financial ties to issues likely to come before him for a vote.
The full seven-member “short term rental” committee was granted a 60-day window to solicit, organize and report back with their findings and recommendations.
If you have opinions or observations that you would like to share with the committee, the members are, in no order:
- Pat Dobosz, The Kenwood Inn
- Cindy Wasserbauer, live-in owner/operator AirBnB in Lighthouse Park
- Melinda Rakoncay, Neighborhood Council president
- Brian Funk – B&B owner
- Parrish Jones – B&B owner
- Debbie Sauls – resident and short-term rental owner
- Tom Day – resident