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Wilkinson pushing for homestead fraud prevention law

By Staff | Jan 4, 2010

By DREW WINCHESTER
dwinchester@breezenewspapers.com
Lee County Property Apprais-er Ken Wilkinson is hoping that a proposed homestead fraud prevention law will help the county recoup millions in back taxes.
Wilkinson is looking for state lawmakers to help sponsor the bill for the spring legislative session, and could be in place by 2011.
Wilkinson said on Monday that his office has investigated more than 1,000 cases over the last few years.
“We’ve opened over 1,600 investigations over the last four years and uncovered a lot of back taxes,” he said. “This is a growing concern amongst appraisers in Florida.”
Wilkinson’s office already has a tip line, whereby residents can call and report on possible homestead fraud.
Still, even with the tip line, Wilkinson said his office doesn’t have the resources to “knock on every door.”
The new law would require every condo association in Lee County to report each property that is being rented.
The report would be due by Jan. 1 of each year, and Wilkinson’s investigators could cross reference the list of rented condominiums with homesteaded properties.
The amount of money that could be recovered, Wilkinson said, could save taxpayers millions of dollars.
“I don’t know why anyone would be opposed to this,” he said. “It would benefit everyone in these tough economic times. If we could recover an extra couple million, that might be money the taxing authorities don’t have to go after.”
Wilkinson said the new law is also being pushed by the Florida Property Appraisers Association, the Tallahassee-based organization of constitutionally authorized property appraisers.