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Rotary Happenings: Save Our Homes author visits Rotary

By Staff | Nov 12, 2014

Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson visited our Rotary meeting a week ago. It was the same meeting that we scheduled our SKYPE broadcast from India on World Polio Day. Last week I concentrated on that portion of the meeting in my Rotary column; this week the column will focus on Ken Wilkinson.

Ken Wilkinson has held the office of Lee County Property Appraiser since being elected in 1980. It’s an understatement to say that’s quite a feat, thirty-four years, not up for election this year but next. During those thirty-four years, Ken has seen the ups and downs of the real-estate market. For a good many years property values continued to go up, up, up and developing fair and efficient ways of calculating values on properties were at the forefront of his office. Wilkinson forecasted and pursued the need for developing and updating the computer technology in his department and hiring the right staff to service the community. During the boom years of real estate, he authored/championed a way where long-time residents of Lee County where not driven from their homes because of the continuing rise of real-estate taxes.

“Save Our Homes” is a constitutional benefit approved by Florida voters in 1992. It placed a limitation of 3 percent increase on annual assessment or the CPI, whichever is less in any tax year on homestead properties beginning in 1995.

When real estate values plunged in the 2009, the appraiser’s office had its work cut out for it. When the fair-market value changes so does the appraised (just) value. Now let’s just roll back a little on this; how is the appraised value determined? Ken told us that in Florida (not in all states), property values by law are appraised yearlyaccording to Florida statues by a direct sales comparison, a cost approach, and income approach. Lee County uses a computer assisted mass appraisal system that uses all three components of an appraisal.

Ken told us, “That the best evidence of the fair market value of your property is the comparison of several property sales in your neighborhood.”

Wilkinson told us that the Lee County appraiser’s office DOES NOT determine your property taxes; they determine the current value of your property and give that information to taxing authorities in your community.

Quoting from a handout Ken passed out, “Various separate government entities, each having unique and district duties, are involved in producing your November tax bill. First, the Property Appraiser annually appraises all property in Lee County at its fair market value as of Jan. 1.”

Next, each taxing authority within Lee County sets their own millage (tax) rate based on the amount of tax dollars necessary to fund their annual budget. Lastly, the tax collector is responsible for billing and collecting all taxes levied in Lee County. Calculating the amount of taxes due is done by the property appraiser prior to sending final tax-roll information to the tax collector.”

A couple of additional things that Ken commented on; through the years, Ken has upset more than a few people, he has even gotten death threats but, that aside, his proudest accomplishment while in office is authoring the “Save Our Homes” legislation in 1995. His concern for long-time residents and their ability to stay in their homes with rising property tax bills needed to be addressed, and he also saw the need to protect small long-time business owners like mom & pop marinas from being taxed out of business because of how they were being categorized on the tax rolls.

Currently, Ken and other property appraisers throughout Florida are looking at the “Green Belt Exception” on agricultural properties.

“Florida’s Green Belt Law was designed to protect farmers from having taxes increased just because the land might be in the path of urban growth and therefore well suited for development. An agricultural land classification results in a lower property assessment. Without such protection, a farmer’s taxes could be raised to the point where it no longer would be economically feasible for that farmer to continue the agricultural use.”

The problem here is a slight buzzing in the community. We all have seen a few cows or goats on properties and know that doing just this little bit can preserve property as agricultural landbut what about raising bees on the property? Are agricultural lands necessary for the raising of bees? Beehives are now popping up on agricultural land. Is this an agricultural-based business? The question is still open. To bee, or not to bee. Is this right?

Ken is a requested speaker here in the United States and by many foreign governments speaking on valuing property, property tax and protecting low-income homeowners. His continued service to Lee County has stabilized a government office that provides fair and justified property values within our county, providing many services and information for our county residents and businesses.

The Sanibel-Captiva Rotary meets 7 a.m. Friday mornings at the Dunes Golf and Tennis Club, Sanibel. All are welcome.