Affordable? It's always relative here

Wendy Richardson lowers her voice.

She cannot hold back the anger. She doesn't even try.

"It's a shame taxes and insurance will make us move out of our home," she said of the three-bedroom, pool home she and her husband, Larry, 53, bought less than two years ago. "It's just killing us."

The couple lost the 15-year tax cap protection they had on their Golden Gate home when they sold it to escape crime and moved into Berkshire Lakes in East Naples.

Larry and Wendy Richardson purchased their home in Berkshire Lakes two years ago and now fear that their rapidly rising property taxes and insurance fees may push them out of their East Naples home.

Photo by Garrett Hubbard, Daily News

Larry and Wendy Richardson purchased their home in Berkshire Lakes two years ago and now fear that their rapidly rising property taxes and insurance fees may push them out of their East Naples home.

Homeowners who make Florida their primary residence qualify for a homestead exemption, which triggers an annual cap on property tax assessments to a maximum of 3 percent. But the protection scales are reset at zero when the homeowner buys a new home.

By the time the Richardsons got tax protection on their new house, their tax bill had shot up to four times what it was.

They tried to fight the property appraiser's $349,000 assessment, pointing out that the house had sold for $282,000 eight months before they bought it in March 2005 for $395,000.

"We knew (taxes) were going to go up, but we didn't think they would quadruple," Wendy Richardson, 50, said.

Then rising insurance rates dealt another blow to the Richardsons, who were profiled for an earlier segment of the "Paradise at What Cost?" series.

Now they are paying as much in taxes and insurance as they are in mortgage payments.

Throw in the homeowner's association fee, and the house that Collier County's talking heads would call "affordable" won't be affordable for the Richardsons once they retire within 15 years.

On top of that, the Richardsons are considered essential service personnel. She has worked for the Collier County School District for 15 years. He has been a biologist with the Florida Panther Wildlife Refuge for 17 years. Together they bring in almost $100,000 a year.

But that's not enough to keep their home. Not if they ever plan to quit working.

When they tried to appeal their tax bill, they contended they had been forced from their Golden Gate home because the county hadn't protected them from crime. They argued that there was a drug house on the street and their car had been stolen from their driveway.

"It got to the point that we were not safe," Wendy said.

But county officials told the couple that their Berkshire Lakes home could be assessed at the entire $395,000 they paid for it.

"The county doesn't care," Wendy Richardson said, her voice lowering and the anger rising. "They are just looking to get their slice."

© 2006 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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