YULEE, Fla. - Nassau County is faced with an $11.6 million budget shortfall, blamed on decreasing property tax revenues that fell from $53 million in 2009 to $40 million in 2013.
Action News has learned the problem may be deeper than just the economy. In a town hall meeting Tuesday, newly elected Property Appraiser A. Michael Hickox told attendees that when he took office in January, he noticed a big problem.
"I was an appraiser for the private market for years, and even before I took office, one of the things I identified were inconsistent values throughout the county. We had inconsistent units of measurement. We'd have one lot appraised at $500 a foot, and across the street was $1,400 a foot. We had acreage valued at $10,000 an acre on one side of the street, and $21,000 an acre on the other side of the street. So we've had a lot of corrections. "
Hickox says values are supposed to be reviewed each year, and inspections are supposed to be performed once every five years. When he took office Hickox says he found 8,170 records were out of date, and the values hadn't been adjusted during the time that the market fell.
"I don't know what happened. I can't speak for the predecessor. I don't know. But there was inconsistent appraisal methodology," said Hickox.
Since then his team has had to make corrections reducing the number of outdated records to 2,079. Hickox says the overall market in Nassau County improved 6.1% this year, so some home values went up, while others went down.
The adjustments, Hickox says, were necessary. "They [homeowners] need to understand that I have a job to do. And that I'm going to be fair with them. They're not going to be appraised differently then their neighbor."
It's information he hopes homeowners and potential homebuyers will eventually appreciate. "The numbers are what they are. That's the value of Nassau County, and now it's more fair and equitable for everyone."
Hickox held two town hall meetings recently to further explain his department's role in the budget proces.
"The property appraiser's role is to report the values and report market conditions that reflect the values that are supported by sales in the marketplace. We don't set the millage rate. We don't control the budget for the county. Once we give them the roll, they'll set their millage rate based on their monetary needs."
According to Shanea Jones, Nassau County OMB Director, the current tentative rate of .5 mils has been set by the commission, which will be reflected on TRIM notices to be sent to property owners on August 16. The values in those notices are the values that were on record as of January 2013.
The Nassau County Commission will hold a workshop on August 7 to hear a summary from Jones of how the tentative budget is balanced, including possible cuts to services.
The tentative millage rate was approved with a vote of three to two in July, but Jones says those who voted to approve were still hesitant in their decision.
Changes can be made based on the August 7 presentation. Any requested changes will be made before the first public hearing takes place on September 12.