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News Story
Updated: 07/19/2012 08:00:37AM

Faux: Half of Polk mortgages ‘under water’

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PHOTO BY PEGGY KEHOE

Property Appraiser Marsha Faux spoke to the Bartow Kiwanis Club Friday.

By PEGGY KEHOE

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While “we’re kind of headed in the right direction,” next year will probably still be negative for Polk County, Property Appraiser Marsha Faux told Bartow Kiwanis Club members Friday.

As of July 1, the tax roll is down 4.79 percent from last year, Faux reported, but something positive in that is that there was an 11 percent drop in 2009, then 14 percent the next year, and now 4 percent, “so we’re kind of headed in right direction.”

Forty-five percent of Florida mortgages are under water (meaning the mortgage is more than the house value), according to figures on zillow.com, but in Polk County, that number is 52 percent, Faux said. The county currently has 3,041 single family homes for sale, which is about 5.1 months of housing inventory.

“To get demand up and get rid of that inventory, the price has to come down,” she said.

More than likely we’ll have another negative in the tax roll in 2012, Faux predicted, so 2014 may be the first year “we level out.”

One in every 401 homes in Florida is in foreclosure, Faux said, and one in 320 homes in Polk County. In April that number was one in 310 and in May, one in 290; now it is back up. Florida still has the third largest number of foreclosures in the country behind California and Nevada.

“I’m not giving you any great news, and I’m sorry about that, other than we’re alive and well.”

The average median house value has gone from $174,476 in 2008 to $92,000 in 2012, a 43 percent decline in the tax roll.

Faux also discussed four constitutional amendments affecting property taxes that will be on the November ballot.

Amendment 9 adds surviving spouses of emergency first responders to the law allowing total or partial property tax exemptions to surviving spouses of military service veterans killed in the line of duty. First responders are defined as a law enforcement officer, a correctional officer, a firefighter, an emergency medical technician, or a paramedic.

Amendment 11 is an amendment that would allow counties and municipalities to grant an additional homestead tax exemption to seniors equal to the assessed value of homestead property valued at less than $250,000 to an owner who has maintained permanent residency for at least 25 years, who is at least 65, and who has a legally-defined low household income.

Faux said she is not really concerned about those two amendments and explained that no fiscal impact has been given yet on these two possible amendments, Faux said.

However, Amendment 10, allowing an exemption for tangible personal property valued at between $25,000 and $50,000, could result in a revenue loss of $600,000 to $640,000 to the county, Faux said. Tangible personal property includes assets in a business that are not part of the structure or the walls, such as shelving units and cases.

The amendment would allow local taxing authorities to offer the exemption in addition to those allowed by the state.

Most complicated and potentially most costly would be the fourth dealing with property tax, Amendment 4, which is supported by the state Chamber of Commerce and Realtors, Faux explained.

It has three pieces. The first part says that the assessment “of homestead and specified nonhomestead property may not increase if the just value of that property is less than the just value of the property on the preceding Jan. 1,” the amendment reads, subject to adjustments in the assessed value due to changes or improvements to the property.

Secondly, the amendment “reduces from 10 percent to 5 percent the limitation on annual changes in assessments of nonhomestead real property.”

The third piece would allow an additional homestead exemption for first-time home buyers over and above the regular homestead exemption. It would apply to all taxing authorities except the school district and to those who have not owned homestead property in the previous three calendar years.

The additional exemption would apply for 5 years, unless the house is sold before that. The amount of the additional exemption would be reduced by 20 percent each year.

Property appraisers across the state would have to validate that those applying for the exemption are actually first-time home buyers. With 67 counties, “how on earth can we check” them all to validate the people are first-time home buyers.

“A person could potentially have a house for four-and-half years and pay no taxes,” Faux said, depending on the home’s value, adding that this amendment “could be huge” in impact. “There’s still a bunch of stuff about this that isn’t clear.”

The effects of Amendment 4 could be an “accounting nightmare,” Faux said. There’s “no way of knowing the fiscal impact.

“Right now there’s now way to estimate what Amendment 4 would cost us,” not only in revenue to the county and municipalities. “It will be very expensive to administer.”




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