What a year to be the county’s economic historian.
Given the impacts of Hurricane Michael, the damage to buildings, structures and timber, Property Appraiser Mitch Burke, his staff and assistance from other counties created a tax roll that was not only certified in timely fashion but remained largely unscathed before the Value Adjustment Board.
Burke last week submitted to the Florida Department of Revenue a final tax roll that reflects loss of property from one end of the county to the other.
For the first time since 2013, property values countywide will decrease, this year by 6.5 percent.
In terms of the dollar loss, the value of a mill fell from $1.7329 billion to $1.625 billion, or about $114 million.
Burke noted that despite the decrease the Board of County Commissioners left the millage rate the same for the fiscal year that began Oct. 1.
The final taxable value for the Gulf County School Board fell by roughly 10 percent as some homestead exemptions do not apply to school districts.
What should be added, also, is the loss in value of the mill, which impacts school district operational funding.
For the city of Port St. Joe, the decrease in property values was equal to 6.5 percent, or the equivalent of $20 million, Burke said.
And the city of Wewahitchka realized a loss of about 3.5 percent of its tax base, roughly $1.9 million.
The two cities followed the county’s lead and left millage rates untouched compared to the prior year; with Tallahassee lawmakers doing some of the lifting the Gulf County School Board dropped its millage rate.
The major value hit was taken by the timber industry.
In Gulf County alone, agricultural losses topped $9 million, or 14.5 percent.
“There may be long term implications due to Hurricane Michael on the agricultural side for years to come,” Burke said.
A silver lining, Burke said, is new construction, no surprise after Hurricane Michael.
Higher sales are being generated and “2020 is looking up,” he said.
In all of fiscal 2019, Burke estimated over $41 million in new construction.
So far this year the Property Appraiser’s office has already put 140 new homes on the tax rolls.
“Gulf County is very resilient and I’m excited to see what the future holds for our great county,” Burke said.
The tentative tax roll was barely moved during the Value Adjustment Board process.
Only 19 petitions were filed, 16 from Best American Storage on Industrial Road and involved valuation disputes with the VAB siding with Burke.
Two others involved St. Joe Company and the VAB also sided with Burke, with one petition going to the circuit court, which has jurisdiction.
While performing damage assessment, Burke said some interesting facts were highlighted.
The county has over 10,000 buildings and over 14,000 accessory structures and Michael eliminated 1,200 buildings and 1,800 accessory structures, about 1 out every 10 building was destroyed.
In St. Joe Beach entire blocks disappeared and the tax roll was significantly impacted by the 20 percent loss in terms of the value of buildings alone.
Burke thanked his staff and the assistance received from the St. John’s County Property Appraiser (Eddie Creamer) and Rhonda Skipper from Franklin County.
Early on, Burke said, he has his staff asked where to begin and the decision was ultimately to “touch every property,” Burke said and for eight months, leading up to July 1 certification of the tax roll they did just that, Burke said.
“I am extremely proud of the hard work and sacrifice to my employees throughout the process,” Burke said.
It is important to keep in mind the final tax roll indicates property values as of Jan. 1; over 11 months changes have come but won’t be known until July.
The tax roll, in effect, is the economic history of the county as reflected on Jan. 1.