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Manatee property values drop $3 billion

MANATEE — With 180,000 legal-size envelopes bearing the words “Notice of Proposed Taxes — Open Immediately” in red ink hitting mailboxes last week, Property Appraiser Charlie Hackney knew the phones would be busy when his office opened Monday.

“It’s been the typical day after the TRIM notices, with 900 phone calls,” Hackney said, noting the concerns and questions he heard.

The Truth in Millage notices tell property owners what their proposed taxes will be from county, school, water management and other taxing authorities. If the resident lives in a city or community development district, those proposed taxes are listed, too.

The final certified tax roll reflects the severe recession that has gripped the country and the meltdown of the housing market.

This year, Manatee County property was valued at $28.6 billion, down about $3 billion from last year, Hackney said.

In 2008, the certified tax roll was down $2.7 billion from the previous year.

The notices, mailed Aug. 20, tell the property owner what their taxes were last year, what their proposed taxes are this year, and the schedule of public hearings for each of the taxing authorities. The notice also declares, “do not pay — this is not a bill.”

In many cases, the governmental entities have not yet finalized their budgets. While they may reduce the tax amount, they cannot increase the amount that has already been advertised.

The Aug. 20 date is crucial because taxpayers have 25 days, including weekends and holidays, to petition the Value Adjustment Board for changes to the market value of their property. The deadline in Manatee County is Sept. 14.

Prior to petitioning the Value Adjustment Board, taxpayers who believe the property market value listed in their tax notice is inaccurate or who believe they are entitled to a tax exemption they did not receive, should contact the property appraiser’s office, Hackney said.

Anne L. Weintraub, an attorney with Syprett, Meshad, Resnick, Lieb, Dumbaugh, said she recommends property owners with a concern or question call the property appraiser first.

“A lot of times, they can work it out face to face,” she said, without the expense of retaining an attorney.

Any other complaint about the TRIM notice, including millage rates and the amount each taxing authority proposes to collect, should be directed to the taxing authorities, Hackney said.

Some taxpayers have a hard time understanding why, if their market and assessed value fell, their proposed tax bill shows an increase.

Under Florida’s constitutional Save Our Homes cap, the assessed value of homesteaded property may be increased a maximum of 3 percent a year or the amount of the Consumer Price Index, whichever is less. In 2008, the Consumer Price Index was 0.1 percent.

As long as the market value remains higher than the assessed value, the taxable value continues to rise, this year by one-tenth of 1 percent.

That’s called the “recapture rule,” and taxes could continue to inch up annually until the assessed and market values become equal.

In the last three years, Manatee County has gone from $7 billion in value that was not being taxed because of Save Our Homes to about $2.5 billion, Hackney said. The recapture rule has served to insulate the taxing authorities from declining property values.

Bill Wheeler, a senior citizen living in the Briarwood community, said he and a circle of friends who meet for breakfast had received their tax notices, and most were more concerned with possible threats to Social Security and their retirement investments.

“My tax bill hasn’t gone up too much. It looks like taxes will stay pretty stable. There wasn’t a large gripe over the property tax,” Wheeler said. “With our insurance, and questions about Social Security, there are bigger fish to fry.”

Woody Wardlow, of Palm-Aire, said his taxes look OK, too.

“It looks pretty fair. They summed us up pretty well,” Wardlow said.

Jim Weir, of Mote Ranch, said he had a question about his fire protection assessment, made a call and was satisfied with the answer he got. “That was my biggest question. Good job,” he said.

For more information about the 2009 property assessment, call (941) 748-8208 or visit www.manateepao.com.

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