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Hernando calls emergency meeting on taxing issue

BROOKSVILLE — A $168 million increase in calculated taxable values could mean another $910,784 in revenue for Hernando County, a situation that the County Commission will discuss today in an emergency meeting.

The windfall will likely be significantly less, officials are warning, because of expected challenges by property owners.

County Administrator David Hamilton has three days from the date of the property appraiser's notification to decide whether to lower the 2011-12 tax rate recently approved by the County Commission so that the same amount of tax revenue would be generated.

Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek provided that notice to the county Tuesday. Hamilton decided he wanted to hear what commissioners had to say on the issue, so an emergency meeting had to be called.

The meeting will be at 8 a.m. today in the commission chambers at the Hernando County Government Center.

According to Mazourek's memo to Hamilton, the tangible personal property accounts of communications companies, mining and utilities in the county comprise the increase in the taxable value.

Owners of tangible personal property, unlike owners of real property, are asked each year in January to submit a return with their best estimate of assessed value, according to the memo sent to Hamilton by Mazourek.

Most of the returns on larger items are not received by Mazourek's office until late April or early May and were not included in the earlier taxable value figures the county used to figure the 2011-12 budget.

The new higher valuation was the result of the Property Appraiser's Office using a new company to perform its valuation service, according to Mazourek's memo.

He warns that the county might not realize higher property tax collections from the value increase because "businesses that increased in value have or may challenge the 2011 increases which could result in Value Adjustment Board hearings and Circuit Court'' actions.

County Commission Chairman Jim Adkins on Wednesday voiced reservations about adjusting the tax rate because of the county's recent history of value decreases. Decreases approved by the Value Adjustment Board earlier this year cost the county $1.3 million that had to be made up in other areas.

Those valuation drops have been challenged by the property appraiser.

"We're dealing with a lot of unknowns at this time,'' Adkins said.

Commissioner John Druzbick expressed similar reservations. "There are a lot of questions I have at this point,'' he said.

"I can't fathom anyone voting to lower the millage rate,'' said Commissioner Jeff Stabins, who is at his summer home in New York and cannot attend the emergency meeting. He said he planned to tell Hamilton his viewpoint so that Hamilton knew what all commissioners were thinking.

He called the windfall "phantom money'' because it was so unlikely that the county would receive much of it and strongly opposed any change to the budget or tax rate.

"We should do just like what the Beatles sing: Let it be. Let it be. Let it be,'' Stabins said.

The increased value is large enough to trigger allowing the administrator to consider adjusting the tax rate, according to George Zoettlein, county budget manager.

Several of the county's tax rates are affected, but the largest is the general fund tax rate, which the County Commission set at 5.6279 mills. To raise the same amount of money as the approved budget states, that would have to be lowered to 5.5049 mills. A mill yields $1 in tax for every $1,000 of taxable property value.

For the owner of a $150,000 house with the full $50,000 homestead exemption, that decrease would amount to a savings of $12.30 on the general fund county tax.

Zoettlein said he will also caution the commissioners about the potential for challenges. If some of the money does come through, he said it would lessen the county's draw on the budget stabilization reserve, a reserve the county must pay back within the next two years.

Barbara Behrendt can be reached at behrendt@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1434.

Hernando calls emergency meeting on taxing issue 10/05/11 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 5, 2011 7:45pm]

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