“Tallahassee, we have a problem”. That is a warning message from Indian River County Property Appraiser, Wesley Davis to area Legislators and Commissions.
“The job of the Property Appraiser is to equitably and accurately appraise property so that no one pays more than their fair share by allowing someone else to pay less.” Davis explained. “The Property appraiser does not set taxes and higher property values do not necessarily mean higher taxes.”
Davis emphasized. “My job is to provide fair, equitable and accurate values. I am confident on the accurate part but due to recent events I am less confident on the fair and equitable part”. I am going to do everything in my power to prevent any additional tax burden on residents and businesses during these troubled times.” Davis pledged.
Davis has asked for help from the Florida Legislature to address a looming problem. In a letter to Indian River County Legislators, Senator Debbie Mayfield and Representative Eran Grall, Davis explained the problem.
“I am writing this letter to make you aware of a situation that has surfaced and hope to work together to help our citizens deal with a potential problem. State Statute 109.042 Date of Assessment states: ‘All property shall be assessed according to its just value on January 1 of each year.’ There is no deviation or emergency reevaluation procedure available to a local Property Appraiser in the statute.”
On January 1, 2020, values were taken before the COVID-19 emergency was known and the Governors March emergency order, forcing businesses to close, was issued. Indian River County residents, through no fault of their own, are now facing new circumstances. Skyrocketing unemployment, loss of income, failing businesses even loss of life. Property valuations from January almost certainly do not accurately reflect post emergency values and without help, relief may not be available for more than a year.
“As Property Appraiser, I do not set taxes, but property values are submitted to local government for action in September and used as the basis for setting taxes. I do not believe it is fair for our citizens to face potential higher taxes based on valuations that we know may be inaccurate. Unfortunately, I have no authority to change valuations made based on January 1st. I need your help and the help of the Florida Legislature to right this potential wrong,” Davis said.
“News reports have suggested that there may be a special session of the legislature to consider revenues and other budget issues. Please consider legislation to address this problem that so keenly affects the citizens of Florida and Indian River County. As Property Appraiser of Indian River County, I will be available to help with any technical issues and work with Property Appraiser Association
members throughout Florida to help bring relief to our citizens,” Davis added.
The state of Texas has been one of the first to address this situation. In one case, a Texas judge has asked the Governor to change the rule allowing alternative ways to re-evaluate values based on the emergency. Lawsuits have been filed by local officials and the rate of appeals by citizens have increased sharply.
“We can expect the same here in Florida.” Davis said. “Since it was government who ordered businesses to close their doors, since unemployment has shot up to double digits and continues to rise, since we will not know the true effect the pandemic will have on property values until 2021, since no government employee has missed a paycheck lost retirement or healthcare coverage and still has a job, one suggestion is that we leave valuations at 2019 levels through the end of 2020. ” Davis reported.
“I can’t tell the County or Cities what to do but I intend to lead by example”, said Davis. “As Indian River County Property Appraiser, I am trying to stay connected to the people who pay the County’s bills. As a result, I have submitted a budget for my office that is less than last year’s. I have cut my office payroll by more than $100,000 including eliminating a previously approved new training position and increased spending only on technology that enhances cyber security or makes my office more efficient. My efforts alone, however, still cannot provide enough relief to our citizens”, Davis concluded.
Davis has delivered preliminary estimates of the year’s appraisal totals to the County Commission, Cities and Taxing Districts as required by law. Dates for a potential special legislative session have not yet been set.
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