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Tampa Bay area property values plummet

Property values have plummeted across the Tampa Bay area, creating craters in government budgets.

It's all the foreclosures.

It's the housing bust.

It's the swaths of empty office space.

The harshest declines occurred in Hillsborough and Pasco counties, which experienced the biggest growth booms during the good years. Pasco lost 14.6 percent of its taxable value for the county's general fund; Hillsborough lost 13 percent.

Pinellas, which is mostly built out, lost 11.4 percent of its tax base, with beach communities feeling the deepest pinches. In Hernando, values fell 9.5 percent.

What's worse, the values are based on the end of 2008. The fall, by most accounts, has continued into 2009. That means more declines next year.

The declines are so stark that appraisers had to come up with new formulas to factor in foreclosures, vacancies and short sales.

In area counties, that meant giving greater weight to housing value ills in the last three months of 2008. Though Pasco factored foreclosure sales for the second year in a row, this is the first year for Pinellas, Hillsborough and Hernando counties.

"In past years, they were anomalies," said Tim Wilmath, director of valuations for the Hillsborough County property appraiser. "This year, there's no getting around them."

The multimillion-dollar losses have left gaping holes in school and government budgets and will result in scaled-back services and lost jobs.

But the declines won't translate into a break for homeowners come tax bill time.

Homeowners who bought before the boom and bust generally won't see smaller bills, even if their market values fell.

Instead, their homes' assessed value could inch up 0.1 percent, an amount equal to the consumer price index and allowed because of the rules of the Save Our Homes tax cap.

The state's cap also requires taxable values to continue to rise even when market values decline, if the market remains above the taxable value.

In Pinellas, for example, that means two-thirds of 245,000 homesteaded property owners will see essentially the same rates, even though their homes lost value.

Indian Shores, a gulf beach community with lots of condominiums, was smacked by a 17 drop in overall value — the fall was twice that for a few properties. It's the biggest drop of any city in Pinellas County.

But condo owner Clay Emery won't see a lower property tax bill this fall on his Golden Shores home of 10 years, despite the fact that the appraiser determined his condo lost 26 percent of its value.

His homesteaded property will increase by $150 in taxable value, property appraiser records show. He paid $1,950 in taxes last year, and would pay a smidgen more unless rates decline.

"To be honest, if I didn't have it homesteaded it would be a tremendous burden on me," said Emery, 74. "I think about people that bought a (second) home about the same time as I bought my condo, and I think their taxes are about $4,000 and $5,000."

Beach communities saw deep decreases because condos make up so much of their tax base, said Pam Dubov, Pinellas County's property appraiser. The condo market has tanked, and many properties aren't homesteaded, meaning their taxable values can rise and plunge. At Golden Shores, two-thirds are rental and vacation units.

Off the beach, foreclosures blistered south Pinellas, including largely built-out St. Petersburg, where values fell 11.9 percent.

The city of Oldsmar fared better than most, losing only 5.9 percent of its tax base. The city has more industrial and commercial properties, and its residential property has been less susceptible to market swings, City Manager Bruce Haddock said.

In Hillsborough, two areas were particularly hard hit for different reasons.

Channelside — where hundreds of condos sprang up over the last two years — is rife with foreclosures. Riverview, home of many new subdivisions, now features hundreds of lots that have lost half or more of their value.

In Hernando, vacant residential property took the biggest hit, dropping 32 percent in value, said Nick Nikkinen, director of special projects for the Property Appraiser's Office.

At last count there were roughly 27,800 unimproved residential parcels in the county, he said. Most of those are in subdivisions in Spring Hill, Royal Highlands and Ridge Manor.

Pasco Property Appraiser Mike Wells said commercial and office vacancy rates were striking in the county and had an impact on values.

In Wesley Chapel, for instance, more than 40 percent of the office stock is vacant. Even billboards aren't getting rented, so those values are down.

The ensuing government budget cuts will produce tough debates, particularly when longtime homeowners won't see any relief in their tax bills.

That could make cuts and fee increases a tougher sell.

"Everybody's looking at their own bottom line, which is important to each citizen," Pinellas County Commissioner Nancy Bostock said.

Hillsborough faces a $110 million deficit with over 1,100 planned job cuts over the next two years. Pinellas has estimated it needs to cut $85 million and 800 jobs. Pasco faces a $34 million deficit and cutting 260 jobs.

School districts face tough choices, too. In Pinellas, the School Board has backed a tax rate increase. Without the additional $14 million, Pinellas teachers likely would face six to 10 days without pay.

Pasco school officials are considering a tax rate hike, too. Hillsborough's school district has proposed two unpaid furlough days in the coming year to balance a projected budget shortfall.

Librarians. Animal control officers. Office clerks. Gone. Their numbers rose with government expansion during boom times. Now they're dropping like the economy.

David DeCamp can be reached at ddecamp@sptimes.com or (727) 445-4167.

Tampa Bay area property values plummet 07/04/09 [Last modified: Sunday, July 5, 2009 1:03am]

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