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As Property Tax Values Decline, Study Your Tax Bill!

As Property Tax Values Decline, Study Your Tax Bill!

By Charles A. Hounchell, Esquire

Property Appraisers for both Tampa and Hillsborough County recently released their preliminary figures revealing that the value of taxable property has gone down for the first time in 16 years. Frankly, this not-so-earth-shattering news in the midst of our currently horrendous real estate economy will bring welcome news to homeowners seeking a means of relief from their inflated property tax bills. Or will it?

Although our real estate economy has been slowing since early 2006, it would appear that our City and County leaders just stumbled out of bed to discover that the dinner party was over. Now it is time to slap some cold water on our faces, shake off our sleepy heads and get back to work.
Not since 1992 have we seen any decline in property values. That fact translates into the reality that our local governments have been steadily growing fat and happy. Now it’s time to trim down the property tax bills of weary homeowners and find a new way to financially fuel our burgeoning local government budgets.

Pinellas County fared much worse than Tampa and Hillsborough County. In Pinellas, taxable property value dropped 8% from 2007 to 2008. Hillsborough County experienced a 6.2% slide where Tampa values fell 3%. St. Petersburg revealed a 5.6% decline for that same time period.
Hillsborough County’s taxable value in 2007 was $87.7 billion and taxable value in 2008 is projected to be $82.2 billion. Tampa’s taxable value will drop from $29.6 billion in 2007 to $28.7 billion in 2008.

What does all this mean? Well it means that property tax revenues to the City of Tampa will be reduced from $161.6 million to $155.8 million and that is sending Tampa officials scrambling to find new ways to cut a projected $17 million from next year’s budget. The other Tampa Bay local governments face similar challenges. Hillsborough County Administrator Pat Bean said that reductions in property values will not simply force trimming but she says that a wholesale reshaping of county government is likely. Look for more layoffs and pray that these forced realignments will result in greater efficiency, I say.

So, where do we point the gnarled finger of blame here? There are two basic reasons for the reduction in property values. A spiraling real estate market combined with tax reform.

The first and most obvious finger of blame should point to our slowing and deflated real estate economy. Local home sales have drastically reduced since the all time highs that we laughed about in December 2005 and the current mortgage debacle puts Florida in first runner-up position to winning the national foreclosure rate ogre contest. Aarrgh! Couple that reality with the fact that Florida voters approved Amendment 1 in January and, voila, you’ve got the perfect recipe to reduce taxable property values. Changes in property tax rules brought to the table by Amendment 1 will include an increased homestead exemption, portability of the Save Our Homes cap and a new tangible personal property tax exemption.

I find it perplexing that the property appraiser in charge of assessing taxable values is one of the same government agencies facing cutbacks and layoffs. Call me crazy but why does the county appraiser get to determine my property’s taxable value when his or her head may soon be on the chopping block? Ah, it is a wonderful world that we live in but I do have one suggestion. When you receive that TRIM notice in the mail next fall, make sure that you ask a competent attorney or realtor to drum up a quick comparative value analysis for you. You may find that a bank’s appraiser could very well have a different opinion of the sales value of your home. If you think that you are being overtaxed, you have one window of opportunity in October to petition the Value Adjustment Board for a reassessment and an adjustment. Good luck.

By Charles A. Hounchell, Esquire

Please be advised that this article does not constitute legal advice nor does it provide any basis to form an attorney-client relationship. Nothing in this article should be copied without the express permission of the author.

Mr. Hounchell has a law degree from The University of Florida College of Law and he is a partner in The Law Offices of Charles A. Hounchell, P.A. – Attorneys & Counselors at Law, in Tampa, Florida. Mr. Hounchell obtained his undergraduate degree from The George Washington University in Washington D.C. and he obtained his MBA in International Management from the American Graduate School of International Management (“Thunderbird”) in Glendale, Arizona.

Mr. Hounchell is a licensed real estate agent with Smith and Associates, Inc. http://www.smithandassociates.com/; http://www.livecasanova.com/. He has lived in many different countries, including Spain, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico and Germany and he speaks Spanish and Portuguese. A significant portion of Mr. Hounchell’s law practice is concentrated on Real Estate Law. He can be reached at 813-230-3376 or charlie@floridapropertylaw.com