The numbers were not as bad as feared earlier this year, but the county’s tax base still took a “sharp drop,” according to Property Appraiser Mitch Burke.
That drop brought to an end a six-year streak of growth in county property values as the economy bounced back from the Great Recession of the prior decade.
But, while the October 10, 2018 arrival of Hurricane Michael carved a chunk out of the county’s tax base, Burke said a number of indicators are on the upswing.
“We are seeing a lot of movement since the storm,” Burke said. “Damaged properties and listings for other properties that have not been previously listed are on the market.
“In the case of newly-listed properties, we are seeing a lot of positive traction.”
The tax roll turned in last week by Burke to the Florida Department of Revenue is in essence, a historical document.
The tax roll reflects a snapshot of the local real estate market as of Jan. 1.
Much progress in rebuilding has occurred since, but some of the impacts from the storm, Burke said, might take a year or more to be fully realized or vetted.
Whatever the future, in the present property values fell countywide for the first time since 2013, dropping from $1.739 billion to $1.628 billion, or just over 6 percent.
“Looking back over the past five years we were expecting a 6-8 percent increase this year, but Michael sent us in the other direction,” Burke said.
Gulf District Schools will see an even larger decrease in its tax base, from $1.951 billion to $1.750 billion, more than 10 percent.
School taxes differ from the county in that fewer tax exemptions are permissible.
In the city of Port St. Joe, the tax base showed a “significant decrease” as it shrank from $307.8 billion down to $287.6 million, nearly 7 percent.
The city of Wewahitchka also saw a decrease in its tax base from $56.2 million to $54.2 million, roughly 4 percent.
The county, two cities and school district all received Triumph Gulf Coast grant funding to help offset losses in property taxes.
For the county and school district the grant funding exceeded $2 million.
Fire districts did not escape the decreases in the tax base, all falling between 4-6 percent: Tupelo Fire Zone fell in value from $117.4 million to $110.9 million and St. Joe Fire Zone had the largest decrease from $1.589 billion to $1.487 billion.
The St. Joe Fire Zone represents most of the county’s coastal properties and includes areas such as Beacon Hill, St. Joe Beach, WindMark Beach, Cape San Blas, and Indian Pass.
Those areas were not only impacted by Michael’s Category 5 winds, but were also significantly impacted by storm surge, Burke noted.
Howard Creek Fire Zone had a decrease from $37.7 million to $35.7 million and Overstreet Fire Zone had a decrease from $54.3 million to $52.1 million.
Agricultural values also took a sharp drop, from $63.6 million down to $54.4 million, nearly 15 percent and Burke said given how Ag values are calculated, the drop will continue in the near future.
Each of the Municipal Services Taxing Units (MSTUs) in South Gulf County to pay for a beach restoration project also saw property values eroded, the largest drop among gulf-interior properties.
On the brighter side of the coin, as of Jan. 1 new construction and additions accounted for over $40 million of taxable value; the county also had over $41 million in taxable value that was demolished after the storm.
“We still continue to see new construction taking place in Gulf County, which is great news, but this year it was directly offset by the large number of demolished properties” said Burke.
“On a positive note, Gulf County seems to be experiencing an active and healthy market again, which is very good news.”
Burke, who sought some assistance from another county property appraiser’s office after the storm as well as help from the public in documenting storm damage to properties, complimented his staff on the hard work and dedication they exhibited after the storm.
“My staff agreed to work the extra hours necessary to complete our assessment deadlines,” Burke said. “I have a top level staff and our goal was to set foot on as many properties as possible after the storm.
“I believe we accomplished that goal.”