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Cape leads Lee valuations climb

By Staff | May 31, 2013

For the second straight year, the city of Cape Coral appears to be the big winner in the property valuations increase sweepstakes, and for the first time in six years, property values in Lee County overall are on the rise.

Property Appraiser Kenneth Wilkinson released his preliminary valuation numbers for Lee County on Friday, and Cape Coral’s tax rolls are projected to have increased 5.67 percent in 2013.

And while many believe that is great news for Lee County in general, the impact it could have on a city that is going through revenue diversification could be interesting.

For the first time since 2007, property values in Lee County are projected to have increased, at 2 percent, with almost all 91 taxing districts seeing its numbers in the black.

The Cape nudged Lehigh Acres by a nose, which saw property values increase a projected 5.66 percent, not unexpected when you consider Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral were ground zero for the housing bust in 2008-09, Wilkinson said.

As for the increase in the valuation, Wilkinson said it depends on your perspective.

“For city government it’s a positive because it means there’s more revenue. It also means the economy is better,” Wilkinson said. “Is it a positive on the individual? If they want to sell their property, it’s a positive. If they want to live there the rest of their lives, maybe not.”

But with homesteading and the consumer price index up only 1.7 percent, that’s as high as your tax can increase can be, and that is good news, Wilkinson said.

So, what impact could this have on Cape Coral, which is in the midst of “revenue diversification?”

According to Councilmember John Carioscia, it won’t mean a windfall.

“We appreciate we’re on a comeback. But we’re going to take a look at what we need and don’t need. I would advocate returning it to the taxpayers,” Carioscia said. “We’ve been given a number of $20 million, and based on the public service tax and the fire assessment, they’ll lower the millage one point.”

The city’s revenue diversification plan calls for two new taxes, a 7 percent public service tax on electric bills, and a fire assessment to pay for part of fire department operations, still pending. The city has proposed to lower the property tax rate by 1 mill, or $1 for every $1,000 of asserssed valuation, to offset the impact of some of the new tax burden.

The official valuation numbers will come out July 1.

Wilkinson is confident the trend for property values is heading up and staying there.

“We live in cycles in our lives, and when you talk about real estate, it’s cyclical. I think we reached the bottom, we’re on our way back up,” Wilkinson said. “I hope we don’t go back to double-digit inflation. That’s not good overall. I’d like to settle in on 5 percent.”

In 2012, Cape Coral also had the highest valuation increase in Lee County, at 3.82 percent. That came on the heels of some pretty lean years.

The overall value in the city was down 2.51 percent in 2011, 14.17 percent in 2010 and 32.78 percent in 2009, when the whole economy bottomed out.

In other areas of Lee County, Sanibel’s overall valuation was among the few that showed a projected decrease, at 0.54 percent, and Fort Myers Beach increased 0.74 percent, Wilkinson said.