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Legislators consider new proposals for appraising properties in Florida

Author johnbsims3
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#1 | Posted: 14 Mar 2007 19:58 
Legislators consider new proposals for appraising properties in Florida

By Mark Hollis
South Florida Sun-Sentinel

March 14, 2007, 6:29 PM EDT

TALLAHASSEE --- To lower property taxes, state lawmakers are adding to their arsenal plans that would create the most significant changes seen in decades to the way properties are appraised throughout Florida.

Legislators are now looking to require all Florida properties to be assessed based on their current rather than their potential uses. Separate but similar proposals debated in House and Senate committees Wednesday would make the changes in an attempt to lower taxes and bring uniformity around the state to the way property is assessed.

Critics have said that some property appraisers, such as officials in Palm Beach County, put more emphasis than other appraisers, such as those in Broward County, on setting the value of a property based on a parcel's potential use rather than its actual use. The result, these critics argue, are higher tax bills for Floridians.

Republicans sponsoring the changes, which make up a key component of a new Senate tax-cut package outlined for the first time Wednesday, say that requiring the assessment process to focus on a property's current use will be a fairer system.

Proponents for revamping the system said there's a host of benefits for retooling the assessment system in this way. They said it could help quell growth, slow coastal land development, and help maintain the state's stock of affordable, urban homes.

``We really do have an incentive to develop Florida (under the current assessment system),'' said Rep. Frank Attkisson, a Kissimmee Republican who heads the House panel that approved, almost unanimously, House Bill 261 that changes the appraisal system. ``So, maybe we ought to make this a growth-management bill.''

But what Republican backers didn't focus on Wednesday in the House committee is the fact that the changes also would wipe off potentially millions of dollars from the tax rolls that now go toward running cities, counties, public hospitals, school districts, and the state government. The immediate financial impact was not presented to the House State Affairs Committee.

``As far as I'm concerned, they (public agencies) weren't supposed to have this money in the first place,'' said Rep. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, a Miami Republican sponsoring a House bill that changes to the property appraisal system. ``If there's an impact, I'm sure they (public agencies) will deal with it.''

Lopez-Cantera told a House panel that it's not clear what the financial impacts to local governments would be.

And later, he told reporters, the loss of revenues ``could be huge'' but adopting his changes are necessary as ``a matter of fairness to the taxpayer.''

He also said there's ample evidence that Florida's appraisal process has run amok. He noted that in 2000, the amount of gross property value reached $1 trillion and only six years later had more than doubled to $2.5 trillion.

``That shows you the astronomical increases this state has seen in property value increases,'' said Lopez-Cantera, who owns a Miami real-estate agency. ``There's definitely a problem, and we believe it's in the way that property is assessed.''

The changes the House seeks would base the value of a commercial property, such an office building or rental unit, for taxation purposes heavily on what sort of income it draws.

He said, for instance, a beach-front property that now stands as a small apartment building or T-shirt shop, wouldn't be assessed as if it were redeveloped as a large, multi-family condominium with high rents being charged by its owner.

The House bill also makes changes that would give property owners more power and time to challenge property appraisers when they think their properties have been incorrectly assessed.

The measure also would change the makeup of so-called ``value adjustment boards'' that consider taxpayer complaints about assessments. Under the House bill, those boards would no longer be comprised of city and county commissioners or school board members. Instead, only citizens who don't serve on those local governments would be eligible to be on the adjustment panels.

``You're going to have people look at it from a taxpayers point of view, and not a politicians' point of view,'' Lopez-Cantera said of the changes to the composition of the boards.

Mark Hollis can be reached at mhollis@sun-sentinel.com or 850-224-6214.

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Legislators consider new proposals for appraising properties in Florida
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