Despite a fast-raging fire in June that devastated an Eastpoint neighborhood, and an October hurricane that damaged, and in some cases destroyed, homes throughout the county, the tax base last year held steady.
In fact, it grew in seven of the eight taxing districts, anywhere from about 3 to 10 percent, with Dog Island the only exception.
This is not to say that some properties didn’t see a drop in their market value, said Property Appraiser Rhoda Skipper, whose office last week put the finishing touches on the preliminary tax values, due to the state’s Department of Revenue by July 1.
She said that because of state laws that place an annual cap of 3 percent, or the Consumer Price Index percentage, whichever is lower, on homesteaded properties, and a 10 percent cap on non-homesteaded properties, landowners still have a ways to go before assessed values catch up with the drops in market values.
“Until you meet the huge difference caused by those two items, the (taxable) value is going to increase. It must increase until market and assessed are equal,” she said. “We still have a huge gap between market and assessed. Even though we have lost some market value, we are going to see an increase.”
Skipper said a closer look at the evidence gleaned from property sales suggests home prices are holding steady, and in some cases rising, in the post-Michael market. While March 2019 numbers don’t figure in to the property values her office used in calculating the current tax rolls, Skipper said data from those sales, used to determine trends in the market, suggest home prices “are increasing at great amounts.
“A lot of that is an impact of Michael,” said Skipper, noting that people displaced from Gulf County by the hurricane have gravitated east. “They have bought homes in this direction. It’s still a decent commute.”
In addition, the county’s beach areas continue to hold appeal, especially when contrasted with the devastation in Gulf and Bay counties. “They’re seeing what an absolutely incredibly gorgeous county we have here and they’re choosing to purchase here instead of to the west of us," she said.
The three largest taxing authorities - the county, school district and Northwest Florida Water Management District - all showed healthy single-digit increases.
The school district, which is shielded from some additional tax exemptions, has a tax base of $2.22 billion, a climb of $190 million, or roughly 9.3 percent, from $2.03 billion last year.
The water management district grew by 7.4 percent, rising by $140 million from last year’s $1.9 billion.to $2.04 billion.
The county government’s tax base grew to $2.03 billion, a rise of about $130 million, or roughly 6.8 percent, over $1.9 billion last year.
The growth in Apalachicola’s tax base was more than double the rate seen in Carrabelle, a trend that Skipper said may have been helped by an influx of Gulf County buyers.
Apalachicola’s tax base swelled to $159.3 million, up $10.9 million from last year’s $148.4 million, equivalent to a growth of 7.3 percent.
In Carrabelle, the growth was about 2.8 percent, up $$3.1 million from last year’s $110.1 million to $113.2 million.
The Alligator Point Water and Sewer District was up by 7.3 percent over last year’s $133.7 million, growing by $9.7 million to $143.4 million.
The Eastpoint Water and Sewer District saw a more modest gain, up $1.8 million, or 2.7 percent, from $67 million last year to $68.8 million.
The one taxing authority to see a drop was on Dog Island, where the tax base dropped by 9.9 percent, a $2.7 million plunge to $24.8 million from last year’s $27.5 million. “It really took a huge impact of a total loss of some homes,” Skipper said.
The conservation district’s budget won’t be as hard-hit as it might have been, because in Jan. 2018, voters there approved a measure to raise their tax rate from 3 to 4 mills.
Skipper said property owners throughout the county should expect their TRIM (Truth in Millage) notices to go out the third week of August, and they will outline their assessed property values and the proposed millage rates that will show them what they can expect to pay out in property taxes.
She said questions should be directed to her office, and that she can make adjustments if they are justified by the data. In the event that the office and property owner cannot agree, then the taxpayer can appeal to the Value Adjustment Board for a reduction.
The property appraiser’s office in Apalachicola can be reached on weekdays at 653-9236. Skipper is in the Carrabelle annex on Thursdays, and she can be reached there at 697-3263.