Countywide property values rose this year for the first time since 2007.
Gulf County Property Appraiser Mitch Burke last week submitted a preliminary tax roll to the Florida Department of Revenue that shows the overall tax base in the countywide rose 2.6 percent this year, the first increase in the tax base in seven years.
After six years of sometimes double-digit percentage declines, the tax base remained stagnant last year, dropping just three-tenths of 1 percent.
This is the first increase since 2007, when property values dropped for the first time in the county’s history.
Real and personal taxable values rose to $1.379 billion from $1.344 billion last year, still a distance from 2005 when property values in the county topped $2 billion for the first time in history.
On the other side of the coin, though, this year’s tax roll is roughly $64 million above 2003, just prior to the beginning of the run-up in the real estate market.
The numbers are preliminary and had to be submitted by July 1. Preliminary approval by the state should come later this month or in August, Burke said.
Burke said a significant portion of the increase is due to new agricultural land values in the county.
Most lands deemed agricultural, the largest landowner being the St. Joe Company, had remained stagnant in value due to the lack of sales over the past 20 years.
Under Florida law, the property appraiser must assess those lands annually based on average market trends or sales from the prior five years.
In 2014, roughly 65 percent of those agricultural lands changed hands as, among other factors, St. Joe sold off large portions of its holdings.
Those market sales – as with all assessments from the property appraiser – drove the change in values.
“We are also seeing new construction taking place, which is great news” Burke said.
In 2013, new single-family construction permits totaled 69.
This year there have been 37 permits, 54 percent of 2013 with five months left in the year.
“However, we don’t get to realize the true increase in value due mainly to the statewide cap approved back in 2008, which caps annual increases in value of non-homestead properties at not more than 10 percent annually,” Burke said.
The tax base for Gulf County Schools, which is not subject to the 10 percent cap, will increase to $1.44 billion from $1.40 billion last year, an increase of 2.8 percent.
The certified property roll is, in effect, a snapshot of the past, a historical marker. The property appraiser is effectively a historian of market trends.
By law taxable values are assessed each year based on value on Jan. 1. The market can and often does change by the time of tax roll certification July 1.
The rolls are also dictated by property sales from the prior year, not just an individual property, but like sales on a street or in a neighborhood.
The city of Port St. Joe showed a small decline in its tax base, from about $280 million to around $279 million, a decrease of less than a tenth of a percent.
The biggest decline was in the city of Wewahitchka, which went from $56.4 million to $55.2 million, a 2 percent drop of about $1.2 million.
All fire districts were above last year’s taxable value.
Tupelo Fire Zone increased in value 6.3 percent to $107 million; St. Joe Fire Zone saw an increase of 2 percent to $849 million; Howard Creek Fire Zone had an increase of 12 percent to $35 million; and Overstreet Fire Zone had the biggest percentage increase of 15 percent to $50.2 million.
After preliminary approval of the tax roll from the state, Truth in Millage (TRIM) notices will go out.
Burke said the TRIM notice is to provide the public a detailed breakdown of what taxes are being levied and by what taxing authority.
The TRIM notice also includes the date, time and location of all public budget hearings.
But, Burke said, taxpayers should keep in mind the TRIM notice is not a bill, but a time to review assessments.
A taxpayer has 25 days from the date the TRIM notice is mailed to discuss assessments with the property appraiser or file a petition with the Gulf County Clerk of Courts for a hearing before the Value Adjustment Board.