It's one of those numbers, like our kids' grade-point averages, that we look forward to every year with hope and/or dread: our home's value according to the county Property Appraiser's Office.
Though these figures aren't quite final yet, they are very close, so here's a preview: If you're anything like the typical homeowner in Hernando, the appraisal of your home and, therefore, your tax bill is heading down - pretty far and for the fourth straight year.
The average single-family home (not including mobile homes, which usually appraise at about half as much) is valued at $97,700 this year, compared to $108,844 last year. Even non-A students can tell you that's a 10 percent drop.
Figuring out the average tax bill is also pretty simple (though more complicated for longtime homeowners, whose values have been kept low by the Save Our Homes cap; a few will still see small tax increases.)
Most of us will receive a $50,000 homestead exemption, meaning owners of average homes will pay taxes on $47,700 of assessed value. Multiply that by the county's general fund tax rate of 5.4394 (a mill equals $1 of tax for every $1,000 in appraised real estate value), which isn't expected to change, and the total comes to $259.46.
All the other countywide assessments - for transportation, environmentally sensitive lands and the health department - add slightly less than one more mill to the rate, and bring the average tax bill up to $302.56. No, that doesn't include schools, but still seems a tiny sum considering it pays for a wide range of services, including law enforcement, parks and libraries.
Historically speaking, it is a small amount, said John Emerson, chief deputy of the Property Appraiser's Office. Plenty of homeowners will pay less this year than they did 10 or 15 years ago.
This is not only because the average home assessment for tax purposes has dropped from a peak of $169,998 - 74 percent higher than it is now.We also need to figure in the general fund millage rate, which topped out at nearly 8 mills in the late 1990s and has dropped about 2 mills since 2002, when it was still hovering up around 7.5 mills.
Then there was the doubling of the homestead exemption in 2008 and the $50,000 extra for low-income seniors the County Commission approved in 2007. Last year, Emerson said, 5,500 senior homeowners qualified. Obviously, as home values drop, a lot of older folks will pay no county property taxes at all.
Not that there's anything wrong with giving breaks to residents who need it most, though a syndicated column by Robert Samuelson that ran in our paper on Monday made a very strong case that seniors, by and large, don't need it most. As for the seniors who really are struggling, do they really deserve a break more than struggling nonseniors with kids to feed?
This is not to single out retirees, just to point out how the county can starve itself by pandering to voters who won't pay their share. It's happening again this year, with any discussion of increases to tax rates - even to make up for a portion of the declining home values - off the table. The slogan sounds pretty tired at this point, but most voters apparently still think they're "taxed enough already."
With public facilities and services declining before our eyes, I don't think we are.