Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Manatee property values go up, up, up

NICK MASON
Herald Staff Writer

MANATEE - Property values in Manatee County jumped again last year, posting the largest increases in more than a decade and providing new evidence of robust growth.

The total value of property climbed more than 18 percent to $33.58 billion, and the taxable value rose nearly 17 percent to $24.71 billion, according to the preliminary tax roll certified by Manatee County Property Appraiser Charlie Hackney.

The tax roll shows property values as of Jan. 1 and reflects changes of value during the prior year. The 2005 roll numbers are the largest set of property value increases in one year since Hackney was elected property appraiser in 1992.

"The numbers just keep going up year after year," Hackney said Tuesday. "The numbers seem very high, but then you compare us to the east coast of Florida and places like Naples, and we are just now getting in line with a lot of other places."

Most of the increase in total value came from rising values of existing homes and other properties, but more than $1.1 billion came from new construction last year.

More than 90 percent of the value of new construction during 2004 was for structures built in unincorporated areas of the county, according to the preliminary tax roll. Less than 10 percent was in the six local municipalities.

Almost lost in Hackney's flurry of figures is the 36 percent increase in the value of tax-exempt homestead property under the Save Our Homes constitutional amendment Florida voters passed in 1992.

More than $4.4 billion of homestead property value in Manatee County now escapes tax because of the annual cap on assessments dictated by the constitutional amendment. That figure is up from $3.24 billion of exempt homestead property value a year ago.

Voters approved the amendment based on advertising campaigns that an assessment cap would save senior citizens and others living on fixed incomes from being taxed out of their homes. But the largest benefits of the tax break have gone to owners of waterfront and other expensive homes, which prompted Hackney to dub the amendment "Save Our Mansions."

Hackney said 90 homeowners in Manatee County each now avoid paying property tax on more than $1 million of their home's value because of the annual assessment cap, which is 3 percent this year.

"As you can see, the little old ladies are benefiting from this," Hackney said sarcastically.

Property values are a major piece of the budget-and-tax jigsaw puzzle that the Manatee County School Board, Manatee County Commission, local cities and other taxing agencies will put together in coming months.

The large boost in taxable value means Manatee County government would collect more than $20 million of additional property tax if there is no change in property tax rates this year, said Jim Seuffert, the county's financial management director. The current county budget includes more than $168.5 million of property taxes.

Additional income from property taxes would help cover the rising costs of building a judicial center, dredging Wares Creek and other public services needed by a growing population, he said.

"It's not just the growth," Seuffert said. "It costs more to do some very basic things."

Hackney plans to mail a Truth-in-Millage notice to each property owner in mid-August. The notice shows the property assessment and explains how the property owner may challenge Hackney's assessment to the county's Value Adjustment Board.

Once assessment challenges are decided, Hackney issues a final tax roll in the fall so tax bills may be prepared and mailed to property owners in late October or early November.



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