By NEIL HUGHES STAFF WRITER
Charlotte Sun-Herald Newspaper. Reprinted with permission. January 31, 2008
Frank Desguin wants you to know he does not raise your taxes.
That message was the one thing the Charlotte County Property Appraiser hoped to get across at Thursday night’s Northwest Port Charlotte Community League meeting.
Desguin took the opportunity to explain how his job works, how taxes are levied, and what has led to higher taxes in Charlotte County — and he even explained how the Jan. 29 property tax reform ballot initiative would affect residents. And he took the opportunity to clear up what he sees as a bit of a misunderstanding.
Tackling such complex issues and answering questions of the 60-plus in attendance took the property appraiser more than an hour and a half in his talk at the Lutheran Church of the Living Waters.
Desguin made it clear Thursday that increasing property values occurred because of state-mandated appraisal procedures, which are applied annually. But, he stressed, what sets the county’s tax rate is the millage rate, which the Charlotte County Commission has control over. By contrast, Desguin does not have “control” over the county’s taxable property values.
“All the property appraiser does is distribute the pot,” Desguin said. “He doesn’t set the size of the pot.”
Because the county typically does not like to change its millage rate, the increasing property values have led to a ballooned budget. In the last five years, Desguin said, all of the county’s taxing authorities saw their budgets go up 140 percent, and the average annual property tax bill went up 28 percent.
“I’m not here questioning the taxing authority’s budgets,” Desguin said. “I’m just saying those are the facts.”
Northwest Port Charlotte residents had a number of questions about the property tax system, including the homestead exemption (a $25,000 reduction in a home’s taxable value), Save Our Homes (which limits the annual increase of a property’s taxable value to 3 percent) and the Jan. 29 property tax reform ballot initiative, also known as Amendment 1.
Florida law states that property taxes are to be based on the previous year’s market. That means when residents receive their property tax assessment forms in September, they reflect their home’s value from a year prior.
That rule led to frustrations in 2006, when appraisal numbers were based on 2005 real estate boom numbers and did not reflect 2006’s market crash.
“It causes a lot of misunderstanding with the general public,” Desguin said of the assessment system. “We do the best we can to explain it. Sometimes they believe you, sometimes they don’t, but that’s what the law is in Florida. Please try to remember that.”
Desguin also took the opportunity to clear up a few misconceptions about Amendment 1. The ballot initiative, if approved, would decrease a home’s taxable value by exempting the first $25,000, as is currently done, as well as the third $25,000. That means homes worth more than $75,000 would see a $50,000 exemption, but homes worth less than $50,000 would receive only the existing $25,000 exemption.
Though Desguin said he will not take a public stance on Amendment 1, he admitted if it passes, it will create a great deal more work for his department.
“This is really going to be fun,” he said sarcastically of the next year.
BY THE NUMBERS
Charlotte County facts and figures presented by Frank Desguin:
$137 million — amount county taxing authorities collected in 2001-02 fiscal year
$329 million — amount collected in 2006-07 28 percent — average annual property tax bill increase
47 percent — amount of the taxable millage rate collected by Charlotte County Public Schools in Northwest Port Charlotte Tax District 104