Crist Signs Property Tax Bill, Cheered by Business Community
Home and business owners who think their local tax bill is too high caught a break Thursday as Gov. Charlie Crist signed a bill that makes it easier for them to challenge how much their property is worth.
Flanked by business and real estate leaders, Crist put his name to HB 521, which lowers the burden of proof for owners who dispute property tax assessments
Specifically, the law lowers a property owner’s burden of proof to a preponderance of evidence, a lesser legal standard than the clear and convincing threshold they now must meet to overturn a property appraiser’s estimate.
“This bill will ensure that if the taxpayer can provide more convincing evidence than the property appraiser can then the home will receive a modified -- hopefully reduced – assessment,” Crist said.
Property appraisers still enjoy the presumption that their estimates are correct, but legislative analysts said the bill will cost local governments $157 million during the current fiscal year. The annual local hit will increase to $693 million by 2013.
Local governments had successfully scuttled earlier efforts to lower the standard and lobbied against the bill, saying it would translate into lost revenue at a time when they’re already strapped.
“I understand that view but only to a degree,” Crist told reporters after signing the bill into law. “Florida taxpayers feel handcuffed and they need some relief. The individual homeowner, the individual small business owner, people across the state that are trying to make ends meet deserve a break.”
Benjamin Phipps, a Tallahassee attorney who is general counsel to the Bay County value adjustment board, said the law change wouldn’t result in an avalanche of challenges. When the law was last loosened in 1997, appraisers saw no significant change. Further, property owners who challenge their assessments tend to be homeowners and not commercial interests.
“You get 120,000 petitions filed a year,” Phipps said. “This simply means that rather than 2 to 3 percent winning, maybe 15 to 20 percent will win.”
Some counties already use the new standard, and so they say for them, things won’t change much.
Crist’s action was hailed by business and real estate representatives, who have been pushing for change since the governor took office.
“This combined with many other property tax relief measures will be an incredible boost,” said John Sebree of the Florida Association of Realtors.
Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said the bill is but the latest in a series of necessary reforms to make Florida’s property tax structure more equitable.
“Today is the next step in helping restore fairness and sustainability to the property tax system,” Williams said. “We’re going to remember this for a long time.”