Friday, August 25, 2006

Hendry Proposed Property Taxes Higher

Hendry Has Third Highest County Tax Rates, Huge Assessment Increases

LABELLE, FLORIDA -- Because Hendry county commissioners and the
Hendry school board have historically levied one of the highest
property tax rates in Florida, Hendry property owners should not be
surprised when they open their mail this week to see the 2006 notice
of proposed property taxes with higher taxes proposed. Tax payers can
expect increases from 10% to 300% over last year if the proposed
budgets are all individually approved at September public hearings.
Public hearings begin September 5 at the school board in Clewiston,
then the county commission meets in Clewiston September 12, South
Florida Water Management District in West Palm Beach on September 13,
followed by the Hendry Glades Hospital board in Clewiston September 14.

Hendry county taxpayers on average pay about 2% ( or 20 mills)
of assessed property value each year to the local government and
school board. Local boards for recreation, fire, lighting, and
waste fees get another quarter percent or so of property value in
addition. Only Pinellas and St. Lucie county have a higher rate
according to a study of 38 south and central Florida citrus producing
counties by the University of Florida. Pinellas has a rate of 2.9%
while St. Lucie is at 2.1%. The lowest Florida property tax rate is
Collier county at 1.2%. Glades county, also at the highest tax rates
is at 1.9%, the fourth highest county property tax rate in the study.

A typical homeowner with a home market value of $150,000 and a
homestead exemption in Hendry can expect to pay about $1600 in
property taxes and an additional $375 to local boards and special
districts. This is about a 10% increase over last year. Even if tax
millage rates remain the same as last year, county government and
schools can expect windfall amounts of extra income due to the huge
property value tax assessment increases in the county over the year.
The county commission and school board, etc. get the tax on the
county's assessed property value which has increased far more than
the inflation rate.

A vacant lot owner in Port LaBelle gets hit hardest this year.
Property taxes in the 32,000 acre subdivision of mostly empty lots
skyrocketed from last year's $305 per lot to this year's proposed
$810, almost a three-fold increase. Lot owners also must pay an
additional $61 for fire, maintenance, and water control. Much of the
"value" increase is due to speculation by a few builders and
investors who last year purchased lots at prices averaging about
$32,000 per lot. The percentage of actual "users" of Port LaBelle
vacant lots in extremely small. Most all sales were by builders and
real estate agents hoping for a quick turnover. The property
appraiser's office picks up these sales prices from the court
recordings. Based on those sales, Hendry's property appraiser says
all vacant lots have thus appreciated about 1600% in two years and
tagged each lot with an assessed value of $32,000. Realistically, it
is unlikely that the average lot owner can sell a lot for that amount
as there are overwhelmingly more vacant lot owners than builders and
real estate agents with the capability to buy more than a small
number of lots from the 100,000 or so lots available.

What can property owners do about high taxes? The public meetings are
an opportunity to express their views although unless a significant
number of citizens show up, nothing typically will be done. The
county commission meetings are generally the best attended with a
hundred or so attending. The Hendry school board meetings have the
smallest number of taxpayers attending. Usually no one shows up.

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