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Islands see increase in tax rolls

By Staff | Jun 1, 2018

Preliminary property tax valuations for Sanibel and Captiva have increased over 2017.

The Lee County Property Appraisers office released its estimated tax roll values on May 31, which indicate a 2.51 percent increase for the city of Sanibel and a 5.33 increase for Captiva as part of unincorporated Lee County. The preliminary valuations for the fire districts on the islands also rose.

The official numbers will come out by July 1, then be sent to Tallahassee for state approval.

According to the estimates, Sanibel’s taxable value rose approximately $126.90 million – the 2.51 percent – to about $5.18 billion. The assessed value jumped 2.48 percent to $5.46 billion, up $131.99 million from 2017, while the just value improved by 0.04 percent to $6.08 billion, up $2.58 million.

“Obviously, the estimates are lower than we anticipated,” Mayor Kevin Ruane said.

He noted, however, that the final number released in July typically comes in higher for the city than indicated by the preliminary one. For example, last year it went from 4.5 percent to 6.2 percent.

Ruane added that the numbers are only estimates at this point.

“I can’t do anything from a budget point of view,” he said. “It’s a barometer.”

Ruane explained that while neighboring municipalities like Cape Coral and Fort Myers lost 80 percent and 60 percent of their valuations during the economic downturn, respectively, the island did not.

“So they didn’t have as much to come back from,” he said of Sanibel’s annual valuations.

Ruane pointed out additional differences that make the island unique.

“We’re a city that is completely built out and there’s really no major thing that can change the makeup of the city,” he said. “The other municipalities still have a lot of things going on with them.”

Within that sense, he compared Sanibel’s valuations to blue-chip stock.

“There’s not as much up and down, there’s not as much turbulence,” Ruane said. “Generally speaking, we don’t have the inconsistencies, the wild swings.”

He also noted that the city’s estimated value of $5.18 billion is the highest is has ever been.

“We are now greater in value than we were at the highest peak ever,” Ruane said.

His approach to the budget will eventually be based off of the final numbers.

“We’re going to, obviously, live within our means,” he said. “We’re going to have to live with the increase and balance the budget accordingly.”

The countywide estimates, which Captiva falls under, show an approximately $3.94 billion rise in taxable value – the 5.33 percent – to about $77.98 billion. Assessed value rose 5.53 percent to $92.51 billion, up $4.85 billion, and just value increased 2.94 percent to $108.41 billion, up $3.10 million.

According to Lee County Property Appraiser Kenneth Wilkinson, the 5.33 percent increase in taxable value is slightly less than the previous three years. Last year’s increase over 2016 was 6.56 percent.

“The market is a little softer, but this is just an estimate. We’ll be working for the next 30 days, adjusting values, refining it,” he said. “It’s a good solid market.”

Wilkinson has been eyeing the market and its effects on property values for 40 years. He explained that he is keeping a close watch on three issues this year that are impacting values and changing things up.

The first two are countywide: flooding and seawall damage from Hurricane Irma.

A week after the hurricane, Wilkinson’s office was out taking aerial shots to compare to previous years to look for physical damage. But what is not visible in photos is flooding damage. Wilkinson said his office needs the public to report damage so the value can be taken off of the tax roll.

“When we send out the TRIM notice, they need to take a close look at it,” he said. “If there was damage they never notified us about, they have a responsibility to contact us.”

Wilkinson is also examining is the effect of the “sludge issue” in Fort Myers, and the properties affected by the dumping of chemical sludge on a city-owned neighborhood property in the 1950s.

“We haven’t come to a conclusion on those issues yet,” he said. “We’re getting closer on (Irma). The public will help out when they call in.”

Wilkinson’s office has until July 1 to finalize the numbers, but the estimates help the 91 taxing authorities in Lee County start setting their budgets.

“They have to report back to me what the millage is they want based on the new values in their jurisdiction, then it’s a mathematical formula,” he said.

In addition, the estimated valuations for the Sanibel Fire District and the Captiva Fire District, along with the Upper Captiva Fire District, have increased year-over-year, according to the information.

The Sanibel district rose 2.46 percent to approximately $5.30 billion, up about $127.30 million from last year. The Captiva district jumped 3.60 percent to $1.45 billion – a $50.42 million increase.

Upper Captiva saw a 9.13 percent hike to about $212.69 million, up about $17.80 million.