Florida Tax Appraisers Ask for Relief for Storm Victims

Published November 1, 2004

Osceola County Appraiser Bob Day echoed the sentiments of many county appraisers around the state in September when he said some tax relief should be offered to owners of Florida homes and businesses damaged by the summer’s storms.

In Orange County, according to published reports, property appraiser Bill Donegan is also calling for relief and has said his county could absorb the lost revenue.

Such tax relief cannot be granted locally; only action by the Florida legislature can make it happen.

Florida’s county appraisers re-evaluate property every January 1, and that is the basis of an individual’s or business’s property tax bill. Damage that occurs after that date cannot be recognized on the current tax rolls. Tax bills in Osceola County will go out in November.

Without some adjustment, property owners hit hard by the hurricanes would be obligated to pay full taxes on homes or buildings that no longer exist or were heavily damaged and are either unusable for business or uninhabitable as a residence.

“I think something should be done, and I’ve sent a letter to our legislators,” said Day.

Cuts Could Affect Budgets

But Day cautioned there is a flipside to property tax relief.

“Damage from the hurricanes is huge here, and the question is how much can county, school district, and city coffers do without,” said Day.

In 1998 Osceola County granted a tax abatement for properties damaged in a tornado, but that was the result of special legislation. At the time, homeowners who lost use of their home for at least 30 days, for example, saw adjustments on their tax bills.

Day said the abatement for 1998 was set up in twelfths–if a resident lost use of his home for two months, for example, that would be a one-sixth abatement. Any abatement approved by the Florida legislature would be for 2005 taxes.

“The latest estimates I’ve heard are that we had $300 million in damage here in Osceola County to residences and buildings used for commercial purposes,” said Day. “That doesn’t include damage to outbuildings, such as garages or pool cages.”

Appraisers Call for Special Session

If there is no special legislation forthcoming, Day said buildings that had not yet been repaired by January 1, 2005, would have reduced assessments. However, no reduction would be given for buildings damaged by the storms but repaired before that date.

If a property had an unattached building that was destroyed by the storm and not replaced, that would mean a reduced tax bill in November 2005, Day said. However, if buildings are improved to more than 125 percent of their original value, property tax assessments will climb.

Day, who is on the board of directors of the Florida Association of Property Appraisers, said the association already has asked Gov. Jeb Bush to call a special legislative session to provide tax relief.

The association is also asking that the state or federal government reimburse counties for any reductions in revenue resulting from tax relief.

The governor has taken a wait-and-see attitude, saying he wants to have a tally of actual damages in hand before making a decision, and also an analysis of the impact tax relief would have.

Marvin G. Cortner ([email protected]) is a staff writer for the Osceola News-Gazette, where an earlier version of this article appeared on September 10. Used by permission.