by Vance Jochim
Updates Sept 4: Added section 10 to "homework" section that includes links to FL Dept of Revenue guides that most taxpayers never see. Added section 11 for email from Lake County Republican Party to Tax Authorities recommending NO increase in millage rates.
This Thursday, Sept. 6, 6-8pm, FiscalRangers.com, a blog on local Lake County Florida Government Fiscal issues, will host a FREE property taxpayer public meeting at the Tavares Civic Center, 100 E. Caroline St., Tavares, FL to explain how and why your property taxes or rates are going up, and tips if you want to appeal your property valuations, lost exemptions, etc. You should have recently received your TRIM notice showing new valuations, changes in exemptions, proposed changes in millage rates, etc.
Have you heard that many local Lake County tax "authorities" like cities, Lake County and various special districts are RAISING the millage rate used to calculate your property taxes? Even though your property tax valuation may be dropping, those authorities want to tax you as much or more as last year, so they are increasing your property tax millage rates. One well known property owner with many parcels told us that his property tax bill, based upon his new TRIM notice, will go up by $10,000 even in a down economy.
Note: We expect to add revisions and updates to THIS article up until Thursday afternoon, so come back for more details, which will be identified by "UPdate" and highlighted in RED . The short link to this article is: http://tinyurl.com/LakeTaxpayer-Forum
HERE is an article in today's Orlando Sentinel about the planned millage property tax rate increases:
The Property taxes you pay depend upon property valuations and exemptions approved by the County Property Appraiser, TIMES
We intend to describe at the meeting how to understand the TRIM notice, the process to appeal valuations or exemptions, and also the budget and approval process for millage rates. We will have documents listing the CHANGES in millage rates and discuss what you can do to encourage your tax authorities (i.e. City Council, County Commissioners, etc) to listen to your concerns. If you do not take action, do not whine about high taxes.
Some taxpayers make the mistake of blaming the Lake County Tax Collector for tax increases, but he only sends you the bill and collects the payments, and takes collection action if you don't pay. The actual Departments responsible for your tax bill values are the Property Appraiser and the tax authorities, which is our focus here.
We have invited three recent candidates for Lake County Property Appraiser (Carey Baker, who won the primaries, Walter Price, and Pam Lee (write-in candidate). Pam Lee, who has significant research on appraisal practice problems, has confirmed her attendance, & Carey Baker will be out of town and not able to attend. Representatives of other tax authorities or the Lake County Property Appraiser's Office are also invited to attend by sending us an email. (See email at end of this article). We will post any later confirmations HERE when received.
FiscalRangers.com has been reviewing practices of the Lake County Property Appraiser, who sets property valuations, and has created a list of facts to be discussed at the Thursday meeting that you need to know to understand whether your property valuations or the process to appeal them are appropriate. We are not licensed appraisers, but will provide information on problems with the fairness of the valuation and appeal process and how to solve them. We have identified questionable practices used by that office that result in taxpayers not understanding all the facts used to change their valuations, and why you need to always request a copy of the LONG version of your property tax "record card" to see the entire history of changes to the data on your property. One problem is that the Appraiser's office has NOT been giving taxpayers all the details on their record cards (one for each parcel), thus taxpayers do not have all the facts.
Taxpayers who decide to appeal the information on their TRIM notices are not always told the best process to initiate an appeal, and we will tell you how to cope with the process and "survive". We are not selling services, but believe in the FiscalRangers.com spirit of transparency, that government needs to inform you openly about facts used to adjust your valuations. We will describe the process you need to know.
For example, the County has enacted many environmental or other restrictions on land use in the last few years as part of the "Comprehensive Plan" which was pushed through about 3-years ago by environmentalists and land use planners. Those restrictions could have reduced the use and value of your land, but you never got a hearing or notice of those changes. But, the Property Appraiser is not told of the restrictions either, and they keep taxing you on a higher use than now allowed by the Comp Plan or State or Federal restrictions pushed through by environmentalists and land use planners. Just recently, one homeowner found 25% of her land was considered "wetlands", thus it had no development or use value (i.e. for farming, etc), but she had been taxed full price for many years until a State Agency told her she could not modify that "wetlands" area. The valuation was $13,000 per acre, while wetlands have no value because they cannot be developed. She is in process of appealing the higher tax valuation over several prior years.
We believe that property tax owners are not being told of these issues, so we will. Some people might believe that the implementation of the land use restrictions in the Comp Plan are a taking of property values which do not follow the property rights provisions of the US Constitution. We have been told that professional Appraiser groups are educating their members on the need to reduce land values due to some of these restrictions, but that only happens if you engage educated Appraisers who know how to do that. As a consequence, you might be taxed at higher levels because neither you or the Appraiser's office knows about those Comp Plan restrictions.
What We will Discuss at the Thursday Meeting:
1. Overview of the TRIM Notice and how to understand it, and what is NOT included that we think you shold know and that should be there.
2. Overview of the Property Valuation process (from a laymen's perspective) and weaknesses that deprive property owners of important information. There could be factual inaccuracy, improper decisions, obsolete valuations, etc and they don't provide the details to most property owners to evaluate the information.
3. Overview of the Property Valuation APPEAL process when you want to get revisions to what is on the TRIM notice, such as valuations, changes in exemptions, etc. We will describe the gory process and how 565 Lake County taxpayers this last year filed appeal "petitions" that might not have been needed. Sumter County has NO such appeals because their process results in informal settlements with owners rather than formal hearings, use of attorneys, etc.
4. Overview of the tax authorities listed on your TRIM notice and how to provide input to keep them from increasing property millage rates to the maximum proposed level. NO ONE tells you that there are TWO public hearings before those millage rate decisions, and the Appraiser only lists the first meeting on the TRIM notice. We tell you where to find the tax authority contact info for more details, because the Property Appraiser doesn't include that on the TRIM notices either. For instance, if you wanted to ask questions about the North Lake County Hospital District 1 mill rate, you would have no clue where to find them since they don't have an office, websites were not listed on the Appraiser website until recently, and no phones are listed on the TRIM notice.
5. Encouragement and details to take action to understand your TRIM notices, evaluate the data on them, and appear at BOTH required public hearings to give public input about proposed tax millage rate increases. Don't let government agencies pass tax hikes without getting involved.
Here are some things you can do BEFORE our Thursday meeting (aka homework).
1.Setup a file folder for your property and keep the TRIM notice in it. Find your "alt key" 7 digit number just above your address label on TRIM notice, and write it down on the file folder. You will use it to do online searches later. Look at the back of the TRIM notice and identify public hearing dates for each "tax authority" that taxes your property. Use that list later to decide if you should go to the meetings. IT IS IMPORTANT TO KNOW that there are TWO required public hearings to approve taxes, but the TRIM notice only tells you about the first meeting. If you don't go to the second meeting, that is when they formally decide, and can do it out of the spotlight if the public is not there to provide public input. GO to this webpage for tax authority contact information (which, magically is not on the TRIM notice) and contact them for the second public hearing date.
1b. Visit the Lake County Property Appraiser's office and ask for a printed copy of the LONG property card for your property. They may tell you to get it online, but that is the SHORT version missing critical information (details below). You should always get the LONG version, which is not very pretty, because it is printed from the mainframe computer.
2. Go to the Lake County Property Appraiser's website and using the "Property Search" page, find your property and get your TRIM notice if you don't have it handy. ALSO, find and print out the SHORT version of your online property card sections so you can compare it to the long version to see what information is missing. Click the "maps" button to see a sattellite view of your property. REVIEW the website for background information on the property appraisal and valuation process.
3. Compare the Long and Short property cards to see all the informationn the office never tells most property owners. If a property owner files a petition to appeal a property valuation, they are only given the short version, when the long version contains many more details that could be wrong. It is not uncommon for a property owner to look at the LONG form record card and say "that isn't true...".
4. Review your TRIM notice and see if any valuations or exemptions changed from last year. Most property values have dropped this year for an average 5.9% reduction. If you lost exemptions or values went UP, investigate why, and whether they are reasonable. If you want to get more details, call the Appraiser's office for a meeting. Don't go without the LONG version of the record card. Don't let them immediately tell you to file a petition for an appeal, because once you do, you can't talk directly to them, AND you lose certain rights. However, the deadline for appeals by petition is Sept. 14th, so you need to decide before that date. If you cannot work out a resolution with the Appraiser's staff before Sept. 14th, your only option to continue an appeal is to file the petition. We will explain the problems with that process at the Thursday meeting.
5. Review your TRIM notice to see if your "proposed" millage rates were increased from those used last year. If so, you MAY be getting higher tax rates, even though your property values might have dropped. If you consider that is a tax INCREASE, then come to the Thursday meeting to find out what to do about it. Additionally, look at the BACK of your TRIM notice for dates of public hearings by each tax authority to approve the proposed millage rates. If at all possible, attend those meetings and give public input if you don't think the proposed millage rates should be approved. You need to be at BOTH required public hearings. Too many times, activists only go to the first meeting, and then skip the second meeting where the actual decision is made. If you want to contact a tax authority, the information is not printed on the TRIM notice, but it is HERE on a document we requested the Appraiser post WITH websites, if available.
6. Visit the County offices and ask for a review of your specific property and what the current zoning is, understand what that allows you to use your land for, and then ask for a review of any Comp Plan restrictions and how that reduces your land use options. If your parcels are large enough, you might even engage a land use attorney or consultant to review your options. Or, you can wait until you try and sell or develop your land, which may be taxed at "best use" rates for many years, and only then find out there are huge restrictions from the Comp Plan causing lost value, making it harder to sell the property.
7. If you have large parcels of land or properties, consider joining the Orlando based Property Rights Coalition at www.http://proprights.com/ . We are not affiliated with them). Watch our video of them talking at a recent North Lake County Tea Party meeting at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXRHWbZTWLA
8. Consider joining and attending a local Tea Party, such as the North Lake County Tea party at : http://www.northlaketeaparty.com/ They are one of the only groups discussing property rights.
9. Learn about how a United Nations program called Agenda 21, or "sustainable development", is working in stealth mode to remove US property rights by using environmentalists as a cover to implement draconian land use restrictions in local City & County Comp plans. It is not a "conspiracy", but a REAL program, fully documented and in print and on video. Their intent is to move the US towards socialism (see the white paper below) and it was first funded by Bill Clinton in 1992. The Republican National Committee and the GOP Platform both oppose it. Alabama has passed a law to reverse Agenda 21 implementation. Florida legislators are planning to do the same thing in early 2013. I am in discussion with a County official to create a committee to reverse sustainable development land use restrictions already in the Lake County Comp Plan and Transportation Plan. Read our white paper and links at www.tinyurl.com/HaltAgenda21 .
9. (Update - added 9/3) Attachments on a) Millage Rate Comparisons (1993-2011), b) Valuation comparisons on July 1 Tax Rolls for 2003-2012 by city or tax authority, and c) 2012 TRIM Millages by Tax Authority with Budget hearing dates (NOTE: There are TWO required public hearings, and the decision is made at the second one, but this Property Appraiser document only gives you the first hearing date. Thus officials escape public awareness by deciding tax rates at the second hearing which most people don't know about - Are you angry yet?). The attachments are JPG files.
b) View this photo - Valuation comparisons on July 1 Tax Rolls for 2003-2012 by city or tax authority
c) View this photo - 2012 TRIM Millages by Tax Authority with FIRST Budget hearing dates
10. FL dept of revenue guides that most property taxpayers never see (thanks to Pam Lee):
If you plan to challenge valuations or info on your TRIM notice, you need to read this.
This is the two page Florida Property Taxpayer's "Bill of Rights" - again, local taxpayers may never see this.
11. Lake County Republicans voted on August 28th to have the Chairman, Mike Levine, write & send a letter to Lake County tax authorities, including the Lake County Board, with the recommendation NOT to increase millage rates as proposed by many entitites. However, the Chair in my opinion added several personal items not discussed at the meeting, such as tax abatements. The original emphasis approved by members was to have the Chair write a straightforward request not to increase property tax millage rates. Normally the Republican Executive Committee (REC) would process a written resolution and approve a written document, but time was short, so they authorized the Chair to write and send a request. So, in my opinion, the purpose of this letter was to only request that millage rates not be increased, thus the government agencies would live within the revenues received from the current, unchanged millage rates.
Be sure to attend our public information meeting this Thursday, Sept. 6, 6-8pm at the Tavares Civic Center at 100 E. Caroline St. We will make a video of the meeting for our "FiscalRangersFlorida" YouTube account, but issues are not always clear in the videos, so attendance is better.
More information can be obtained by email: FiscalRangers AT comcast DOT com .
Bonus: HERE is a GREAT 2011 Wall St. Journal article how to lower your property taxes. Be sure to click on the cartoon graphic to see a large version.
In contrast to the above discussions about tax increases, some homeowners WANT higher valuations to justify asking prices when selling their houses. Here is another Orlando Sentinel article from today's main section about a Leesburg resident (Russ Sloan - is this the well known Sloan, Economic Development adviser and writer in the Daily Commercial? ) complaining to the STATE about his property appraisal. The article doesn't say he discussed the issue with the County Property Appraiser. In this case, it seems his beef was with an independent property appraiser.: http://articles.orlandosentinel.com/2012-09-01/business/os-home-appraisals-20120901_1_appraisal-management-companies-home-valuation-code-distressed-sales