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Hernando seeks to plug tax drain from unrepaired sinkholes

BROOKSVILLE — Frustrated by the property value and tax revenue that is lost to unrepaired sinkholes, county commissioners on Tuesday discussed a number of dramatic solutions.

They considered declaring unrepaired sinkhole homes uninhabitable until homeowners fix them. They talked about reducing the discount on the appraised value of these unrepaired homes from 50 percent to 30 percent. They discussed requiring all new homes in the county to be built with the underpinning to prevent sinkhole damage.

But the commission does not have the power to order any of these remedies, and Property Appraiser John Emerson made it clear he won't change the way he values sinkhole homes because he could face a class-action lawsuit.

His appraisals for sinkhole properties must reflect their market values, he said, and they do.

His office reduces the value of homes with sinkhole damage by 50 percent because sales of sinkhole homes without repairs sell for about half their previous value.

Repaired sinkhole homes are assessed at 90 percent of their original value because that is how they are valued by buyers in the county.

Last year the county lost nearly $80 million in taxable property value due to sinkholes.

Because the commission cannot take dramatic action, it decided to continue to try to chip away at the problem.

Chairman Dave Russell urged Emerson to continue to work with commissioners to try to encourage more owners of unrepaired sinkhole homes to make needed repairs.

He said he understood that Emerson was bound to follow the rules, but noted, "what we're trying to do is work the fringes.''

Commissioners agreed to several action plans.

They asked Emerson to meet with the appraiser from Pasco County, which discounts the value on unrepaired sinkholes at 30 percent. Pasco has faced and lost challenges of that discount before the county's Value Adjustment Board which considered it arbitrary.

Commissioner Diane Rowden pushed for the county to seek some assistance from outside agencies such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which provides funds for other types of disasters.

"If a storm came through here … we'd have state and federal disaster relief,'' Rowden said. Sinkholes that delay recovery in Hernando's crippled housing market means "the county is the victim of the perfect storm.''

Russell said the county could draft a letter to FEMA to see if there is some form of disaster relief available.

Commissioners also urged Emerson to take a look at the format of a letter that Hillsborough County sends out to the owners of unrepaired sinkhole homes to remind them that repairs should be made. He told commissioners that his office has sent out similar letters before but he was not opposed to sending out another.

Currently there are 6,106 parcels in Hernando County with confirmed sinkhole activity. Of those parcels, 2,726 have been repaired and the rest have not.

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

Hernando seeks to plug tax drain from unrepaired sinkholes 05/07/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 7, 2013 6:58pm]
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