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Incumbent Schultz leaps to early lead in GOP race // CITRUS COUNTY PROPERTY APPRAISER

Citrus Property Appraiser Ron Schultz took a strong early lead over Republican challenger Rex A. Rusaw on Tuesday night. With about a fourth of the votes counted, Schultz had nearly a 2-to-1 lead.

The winner will face Democrat Oren C. "Woody" Woodward in the Nov. 5 general election.

Rusaw had criticized Schultz, saying he does not understand the appraisal process and charging that his office uses incorrect methods that regularly produce unfair and inequitable assessments.

Schultz defended his record, saying his staff has produced tax rolls that are among the most fair in the state.

The two candidates also sparred over qualifications. Rusaw, a state-certified general real estate appraiser, has said it is improper that most of the employees in the office are not certified with the state's Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

In response to Rusaw's criticism, Schultz went and got his own license with the DBPR, but said afterward that he thinks he and his office already are qualified. Schultz said 14 of the office's 34 employees are certified as evaluators through a different agency, the Department of Revenue. Schultz is also certified as an appraiser by that department.

Schultz, of Homosassa, has served as the county's property appraiser since he was first appointed in 1990, when then-Property Appraiser Charles Allen retired before the end of his term.

Rusaw, also of Homosassa, runs a real estate appraisal and consulting service in Crystal River.