BROOKSVILLE — As if the "For Sale'' signs languishing around every corner were not proof enough, preliminary taxable property values released Wednesday confirm that Hernando County's housing boom has indeed gone bust.
For the first time in nearly 20 years, the county's taxable property values have fallen.
The county's taxable values for 2008 fell nearly 13 percent from the 2007 tax roll, according to the Property Appraiser's Office. That's a drop in taxable value from last year's record high of $11.4-billion to $9.9-billion, or roughly back to where the county was in 2006.
An even worse reading comes when the 2007 value is compared to 2008 without considering the approximately $400-million worth of new construction that took place last year. Then, the drop in taxable value is 16.3 percent.
The decline is largely attributed to the free-fall of the residential real estate market, but there are other significant factors, according to John Emerson, chief deputy for the Hernando County Property Appraiser.
Hernando County commissioners last year enacted the low-income senior homestead exemption, which trimmed up to $50,000 in taxable value off of every qualified senior's home.
Florida voters also overwhelmingly approved Amendment 1 in January creating addition homestead exemption and other property exemptions that have impacted property values.
George Zoettlein, director of Hernando County's office of management and budget, said he already has factored the drop in taxable values into the county's 2009 budget. The estimate from the Property Appraiser's Office "is close to what we thought was going to happen,'' he said.
Department heads and County Administrator David Hamilton are continuing discussions on the budget, including where to find more than $3-million in spending cuts.
The numbers released Wednesday might be confusing to some taxpayers because they reflect values on property in 2007 when most real estate experts say the market tanked. While the average house value was $213,500 in 2006, it fell to $189,000 in 2007. That 2007 figure is reflected in the 2008 tax rolls.
The average house value so far this year is down to $165,000, which is why some taxpayers will get their notice of taxes in late summer and wonder why their assessed value is set so high. The falling value of their home this year will be reflected in next year's taxable values, Emerson explained.
Jack Gavish, a Brooksville real estate broker, said Property Appraiser Alvin Mazourek's assessments are still lagging behind the value drops he sees in the market.
"Pick any number of houses that were purchased in 2005 for "X'' amount. They will be worth 30 percent less than "X'' right now,'' he said. "A 16.2-percent drop is fairly conservative, but lets face it, Alvin wears the black hat. He's got to get revenue for the county.''
Emerson warned that even in this down market, many homeowners will not see drops in their taxable value. Those who have had their home long enough to be under the Save Our Homes tax cap provision might still see a 3 percent increase in their assessed value, as allowed by law, even as the market value of their property drops.
Home values are just as relative as other costs are these days, Emerson said.
"When you think about gas prices, now we'd be happy if they were $3 a gallon,'' he said. "But a year ago, we'd be pulling our hair out if it hit $3.''
Staff writer Dan DeWitt contributed to this report. Barbara Behrendt can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1434.