On Tuesday, June 27, the House Committee on Natural Resources favorably reported H.R. 2370, the Escambia County Land Conveyance Act. The bill, authored by Congressman Matt Gaetz (R-FL-01), would give leaseholders in Santa Rosa Island the option to acquire fee simple titles to their land, and will soon come to a vote before the full House.
In 1947, the federal government transferred land that was part of the Santa Rosa Island National Monument to Escambia County. Since then, residents of Santa Rosa Island have been ineligible to own their land; they can only lease it. At first, businesses and residents of Santa Rosa Island paid lease fees, but not property taxes. Since then, however, the rules changed; residents are now required to pay both lease fees and property taxes.
“Residents of Santa Rosa Island have suffered under double taxation for years,” said Rep. Gaetz. “My bill will help lift this unfair tax burden, and will finally give Santa Rosa Island residents the ability to obtain titles to their property. As a Republican, I believe land ownership is a cornerstone of the American dream — and now, for Santa Rosa Island residents, it’s finally within reach.”
H.R. 2370 would require Escambia County, within two years, to turn over to Santa Rosa County the land that it owns there, eliminating the confusion around county land ownership. It would also require Escambia County to preserve the areas of the conveyed monument land that are dedicated for conservation, preservation, public recreation access, and public parking.
Previous legislation on this topic has been introduced in past sessions of Congress with no success. With a companion to Congressman Gaetz’s bill having been introduced in the Senate by Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL), however, residents of Santa Rosa Island have reason to be optimistic. “This is a team effort on the part of federal, state, and local governments,” Gaetz said. “This is how legislation is supposed to work. I am happy to hear that the bill will come to a vote soon, and I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and the Senate to make this long-anticipated goal a reality at last.”