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Area property values continue to rise

By Staff | Jun 30, 2015

Over the past month, Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson’s staff found another 1 to 2 percent of increased value in Lee County property that can be tapped by the county’s 91 taxing authorities for the Fiscal Year 2016 budget cycle.

“It’s not a surprise to me,” Wilkinson said of the final estimated tax roll values revealed this week. “I know how much the tax authorities use the numbers for their budgets. I always try to be conservative so I’m sure they are all happy.”

Property values countywide, Wilkinson estimates, for the 2015 tax bill are higher by 7.56 percent over 2014. That figure is 2 percent higher than his preliminary estimate revealed a month ago.

Cape Coral City Manager John Szerlag was pleased with the preliminary increase of 6.01 a month ago, saying it was right on target for his Fiscal Year 2016 operating budget. Wilkinson’s final 2015 estimate of property value increase for Cape now is 7.75 percent, or an additional 1.75 percent increase.

“We’re in that positive trend for the third year,” said Wilkinson. “Of course, the taxing authorities don’t have to take all of the money. They can roll back the millage rate and get the same amount as last year, that’s the rollback rate.”

Szerlag said a month ago that the 6 percent increase was enough for the city to roll back the city’s mil rate by .75 mils for 2016 that the city promised it would do when the Fire Service Assessment (FSA) was approved. Fearing a money shortage, that rollback was withheld for 2015 with the FSA still unresolved at the Florida Supreme Court of Appeals. Now that the court has ruled in the city’s favor, two years of FSA funds are now available for city use.

“Once the taxing authorities give us their mil rate request (August), they can not raise it,” said Wilkinson. “They can go lower or use the rollback rate to raise the same money as the previous year.”

Wilkinson now sends the 2015 final tax assessment figures to Tallahassee for approval. He expects to be notified of that approval before August.

“I’ve never had an assessment refused,” he said. “They will run their own statistical analysis and even physically go out to a number of parcels for their own audit.”

Taxing authorities have until August to file their millage rate request with the appraiser’s office which then calculates the rate and sends out the annual TRIM notices to property owners detailing their final tax values. Property owners then have 25 days to contact the appraiser’s office to appeal their value if they think it is too high.

Around the county, Fort Myers shows a property value increase of 9.47 percent while Sanibel’s values are up 4.98 percent. Bonita Springs has the highest increase at 9.71 percent which is 1.5 percent higher than Fort Myers Beach property at 8.24 percent.

“Bonita Springs is no surprise,” said Wilkinson. “Their growth has been all high-end property.”

Even the county’s 17 fire district taxing authorities show positive increases. Matlacha-Pine Island increases 5.77 percent and North Fort Myers increases by 5.01 percent. Upper Captiva Fire District can tap into a value increase of 6.73 percent with Captiva coming in at 5.83 and Sanibel at 4.75 percent.

Property values started to rise in the county three years ago with a few communities still seeing decreases. Most property in the county increased for 2013 with few exceptions. Starting in 2014, every city, town and taxing district in the county enjoyed higher values.

“The last time we had an up market was January 2007 when the market was at its peak,” said Wilkinson.

The Lee County market lost half of its total value between 2007 and 2013 when the market started to turn around.

The annual process is complete when tax bills start arriving in property owners’ mailboxes in November. Taxpayers then have four months to pay their bill with a discount.