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Rowden's sinkhole stand has personal dimension

BROOKSVILLE — On Tuesday, the Hernando County Commission will hear about the millions of dollars in property value the county has lost to sinkhole damage.

One commissioner, Diane Rowden, will have firsthand knowledge of this trend.

In 2011, engineers found voids under the home Rowden owns with her husband, Jay. Last month, the Rowdens filed suit against state-run Citizens Property Insurance, saying that its plan to repair the home is "patently deficient."

The discussion Tuesday will focus on the county Property Appraiser John Emerson's policy of devaluing unrepaired sinkhole homes by 50 percent and repaired ones by 10 percent.

Rowden said her own experience hasn't changed her opinion that halving the value of sinkhole properties is going too far.

"The value shouldn't be cut like it is, and when these houses are fixed, they should be back on the rolls at 100 percent," she said.

Commissioner Wayne Dukes, who requested the presentation from Emerson, said other counties with sinkhole issues handle values differently than Hernando and he wants the commission to consider alternatives.

Every dollar of lost value adds up to shortfalls in the property tax revenue the county needs to provide services.

"To us, that's the $6 million we're short on the first day of the budget year,'' Dukes said.

He doesn't believe people who made a sinkhole claim prior to 2011 and kept the money but didn't repair the sinkhole should be allowed to keep their 50 percent value reduction.

"If you've lived in your house for eight years, do you really deserve a break on your property tax?'' he said.

Dukes also has an issue with the 10 percent reduction for repaired homes because he thinks houses are worth more after they have been fixed.

Reclaiming some of the value lost to sinkhole claims would help the county avoid raising the tax rates of other residents, Dukes said.

Rowden agrees. She said she told Emerson she didn't want her own taxes to be cut in half. Rowden said a 20 percent reduction seems more reasonable.

In 2011, the Rowdens paid $1,122.95 in ad valorem taxes, records show. Last year, they paid $401.18. Once the house is repaired, Rowden said, she wouldn't oppose an assessment of 110 percent of the original value.

But first the couple must resolve its dispute with Citizens.

The Rowdens' ranch style home was built in 1985 and moved to its current location a decade later, says the complaint. The Rowdens bought the home in 1998.

In June 2011, they discovered cracks and other damage to the house and a detached garage. An engineering company contracted by Citizens confirmed sinkhole activity. The company recommending injecting grout into 36 places under the home.

The lawsuit claims Citizens has breached its contract by not agreeing to cover those costs.

"We're not trying to gain monetarily," Diane Rowden said. "We love our house. We just want it fixed."

Rowden's sinkhole stand has personal dimension 05/02/13 [Last modified: Thursday, May 2, 2013 10:51pm]
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