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Date of Issue: August 23, 2007

Island property values up and down

Owners of non-homesteaded property on Anna Maria Island were either pleasantly surprised or flaming mad when they received their Manatee County Truth in Millage notice last week from property appraiser Charles Hackney.

According to Mike Norman of Mike Norman Realty in Holmes Beach, the values of his non-homesteaded properties increased between 5 and 10 percent, an increase that will ultimately translate into yet higher taxes. But real estate prices on the Island are down anywhere from 10 to 30 percent, he noted.

If the property values are based upon sales of comparable properties, then “I just don’t understand it,” he said.

Barry Gould of Island Vacation Properties said the property appraisal methods used by Hackney’s office are “a mess.”

Hackney bases his appraisals on sale prices of real estate going up, said Gould, but he’s not doing the same thing when prices go down and they have been plummeting on Anna Maria Island the past 18 months, dropping on average 20 to 30 percent.

Wait a minute, said Dale Friedley of the appraiser’s office. He admitted his office appraised Island properties using the “highest-and-best-use” method and examined comparable sales prices, but he hasn’t seen the trend that Gould and Norman have claimed.

“If we see lower prices on Anna Maria Island and Longboat Key next year, then we will lower assessments,” he pledged, but it’s difficult to predict what will happen until all the real estate data for the year is examined.

In fact, he added, non-homesteaded property values on Anna Maria Island, including Longboat Key, had the lowest percentage increase in any Manatee County taxing district, and 64 percent of non-homestead properties decreased in taxable property value for the 2006-07 period, he said.

Some non-homesteaded property owners did get a break.

Sabine Muesel-Buehler of Haley’s Motel in Holmes Beach was pleasantly surprised when she opened her TRIM notice last week to find that taxes on the motel portion of her property will be dropping about $2,000 from last year. Taxes on her cottages and vacant lots also declined, she said.

After the stunning tax increases of the past three years, news of a decline brought some welcome relief.

“So, I guess we can say this is a welcome surprise,” she said.

Bradenton Beach city commissioner Bill Shearon, who owns the Linger Longer accommodations in that city, was puzzled. The assessed value of his property rose about 5 percent, but the taxes will drop around 2.5 percent.

While that’s encouraging news for the investor and motel owner on the Island, Shearon said he was hit with a near 100 percent tax increase last year.

And not every motel or investment property owner is as lucky as Muesel-Buehler, noted Gould, who is also a member of Citizens Against Runaway Taxation, a grassroots organization based in Holmes Beach that has been lobbying the Florida Legislature for lower taxes for business and accommodation owners.

He reminded disgruntled property owners that they have 25 days from the date they received their TRIM notice to appeal the appraisal amount.

“If there are 10 similar properties to yours in your area and they sold for less than your value last year, then you can go to the appraiser’s office and make a case,” he said.

CART is also organizing public discussion of the property appraiser’s office at the Manatee County Board of County Commission’s Sept. 11 meeting and at the Holmes Beach City Commission meeting on Sept. 4.

But don’t be surprised if neither the county nor city commission can make much leeway with Hackney’s office.

Manatee County is not a chartered county. Put another way, it doesn’t have home rule. Hackney is an elected official who appraises property according to methods established by the Florida Legislature, not county regulations. The commission has no control over his actions, County Commissioner Jane von Hahmann noted previously.