The gloomy budget forecasts emanating from the Board of County Commissioners meeting room may have been a bit premature.
Gulf County Property Appraiser Mitch Burke transmitted a preliminary property roll to the state by the July 1 deadline and that roll shows that while taxable tangible property values will dip for a seventh-straight year, this year’s decline represents less than 1 percent.
That is a far cry from even the 7 percent decline of last year and far below the double-digit dips in property value from three and four years ago.
“Even though the real estate market continues to improve, Gulf County’s overall tax base dropped this year,” Burke said. “However, the decrease in value was minimal compared to previous year’s reductions.”
According to the preliminary numbers transmitted to the Florida Department of Revenue, the county’s combined taxable value, including both real and personal, will drop from $1.352 billion to $1.347 billion, a decrease of three-tenths of 1 percent.
Burke said values were almost exactly where they were in 2003, before the roiling of the real estate market, up and then down.
“We are seeing new construction taking place, which is great news,” Burke said. “However, we don’t get to realize the true increase in value due mainly to the statewide cap approved in 2008 which caps annual increases on value of non-homestead properties at no more than 10 percent annually.”
The news for the city of Port St. Joe stood out.
The city was the only taxing district to show an increase in its tax base, from $276 million to $279 million, an increase of just over 1 percent.
Burke said the increase was primarily the result of the sale of the newly-constructed Dollar General Market store on U.S. Highway 98 and valuations of some commercial lots owned by the St. Joe Company where values needed to be adjusted consistent with current market conditions, Burke said.
“We’ve kind of busted our humps looking at different areas and changing values to where they should be,” Burke said. “There were some St. Joe properties that had not been adjusted in 10 years or more and we readjusted some of those values.”
For the Gulf County School Board, which is not subject to the 10 percent cap on annual increases, the drop in the tax base will represent two-tenths of 1 percent, falling from $1.405 billion to $1.402 billion.
The largest decline came in the city of Wewahitchka, which saw property values fall 7 percent, from $61.6 million to $57.3 million.
Burke said the primary reason for the decline was two larger personal property accounts declining in value.
The Northwest Florida Water Management District will realize a drop of one-third of 1 percent, Burke said.
In addition, each Fire District in the county saw a drop in taxable value.
The Tupelo Fire Zone dropped 1.7 percent; the St. Joe Fire Zone one-tenth of 1 percent; Howard Creek Fire Zone fell 1.5 percent and the Overstreet Fire Zone took the biggest hit at 3.5 percent.
Going back to at least 1982, county property values had not dropped in any single year until 2007, two years after the height of the real estate bubble when property values exploded past $2 billion with a 55 percent increase in 2005.
However, after dropping by more than 20 percent in both 2009 and 2010, the decline steadied.
The two Municipal Services Taxing Units (MSTUs) that fund the local share of the bond for beach renourishment have expired.
The property roll is essentially a historical marker, establishing what the market reflects – based on sales of like properties in the county – as of Jan. 1, 2013.
When prices are moving up, as was historically the case for decades, that system works to the advantage of the property owner who can, over those six months, see the value of property move higher on the market than the county assessment.
When the market declines, however, property owners can be in retreat on value compared to assessment for a given year.
The BOCC and Coastal Community Association lobbied state lawmakers to allow the use of bank and short sales, which were accounted for the first time in 2012.
The Property Appraiser’s Office assesses 17,527 properties in the county; 1,211, or just 6.9 percent, are not taxable and the vast majority of those properties are owned by government, local, state and federal.