Property owners in Lee and Collier counties will receive their property tax bills starting this week, ripping a band-aid amid monumental damage to property in southwest Florida after Hurricane Ian.
Bills an indisputable affirmation of the types of damage inflicted by nature on buildings and land as well as wallets.
Tax bills are based on property – land, fixtures, buildings – as it was January 1, 2022. Hurricane Ian ripped off land and building values that had rebounded since the last major hurricane five years ago. Most damage estimates exceed $50 billion.
Shortly after the storm, Verisk Analytics, a Jersey City-based risk assessment firm, estimated likely insurance claims at $42 billion to $57 billion. Hurricane Irma in 2017 caused an estimated $77 million in damage on its way from the Caribbean through Florida and the East Coast.
The Lee Schools alone estimated the damage to his properties at $230 million.
Homeowners and businesses now have to pay tax bills on property values that no longer exist, while facing the cost of rebuilding, repairing or even relocating.
Property taxes: hurricane breaks
Property tax bills come out Wednesday and are expected to arrive in mailboxes the day after Thanksgiving, giving unwanted and added meaning to the phrase Black Friday.
Property tax values for real estate and taxable personal property are based on the world as it was on January 1, 2022, as Lee and Collier counties emerged from three years of recovery from the last Big One , Hurricane Irma, in the summer of 2017
In Lee County, $436.3 million in property taxes were collected for the 2021-22 budget year, representing 18.6% of the county budget.
Collier County’s $414.2 million in property tax collections represent 27% of the county’s $1.7 billion budget.
This statutory date means that losses due to Hurricane Ian, or any other calamity occurring after the first of the year, are not taken into account until the 2023-24 tax year, which will be based on the damage from January 1, 2023.
In Collier County, Jack Redding, director of improvements appraisals and a hurricane veteran dating back to Hurricane Andrew in 1992, said appraisers will document damage over the coming year to determine property values. post-Ian for tax assessments based on next January 1st.
“Our office sent a postcard saying if you have any documentation of your damage, let us know and we will review each property specifically and individually to see the extent of the damage,” Redding said. “We can make a write-down based on their calamity and the damage they’ve taken.”
It’s the same for the county just to the north.
“It was the hardest thing to understand, that people will be getting bills for goods that may or may not exist or may or may not be in the same condition as January 1 of this year,” the tax collector said. Lee County taxes. Noelle Branning. “The fires, the police counties school district – they depend on money to operate.”
Florida property taxpayers get discounts for quick payment. The biggest discount is 4% of the bill. Usually it is due on the last day of November, but the payment discount has now been extended to December 31.
Changes in the property tax due date
♦ The official due date for 2022 taxes will now be January 1, 2023
♦ But, taxes don’t officially become overdue until June 1, 2023
♦ The 4% early payment discount applies to invoices paid in November, December and January.
♦ February payments will receive a 3% discount.
♦ March payments will be discounted by 2%
♦ April payments receive a 1% discount.
♦ Can and thereafter have no discount on tax bills
♦ Taxpayers making estimated property payments are granted an additional 60 days
for payments due on December 31, 2022 and March 31, 2023
Save Money, Stay a Floridian
When hurricane weather keeps homes out of use, it can force homeowners to move elsewhere – temporarily for some, permanently for the storm-weary.
Homeowners typically take advantage of property exemptions, Save Our Homes credits, and other measures created to reduce taxes paid by people living in their own homes.
But to maintain these exemptions, the Florida homeowner must avoid becoming an official resident of known or unknown parties in another state while your Florida property is being repaired.
Lee’s real estate appraiser Matt Caldwell warns homeowners that they need to go elsewhere to do what they need to do to avoid losing their property and other exemptions that reduce property values.
“Make sure farmers don’t make a mistake and accidentally abandon their farm if they want to stay put,” Caldwell said. “If anyone is going to live with the kids in Alaska for a few years, that’s great…we’ll contact them if they have an address.”
An indication of an intention to abandon Florida and waive the exemption could be as simple as obtaining an out-of-state driver’s license while awaiting reconstruction in Florida. Other factors may be evidence of an intention to return to Florida, such as maintaining Florida voter registration, maintaining names on Florida utility bills as well as formally declaring a residence in Florida.
Redding of the Collier’s Office of Real Estate Appraisers warns, however, that the allowable rebuilding period is limited to around two years.
“If they don’t know the timing, they have a few years to rebuild – there’s about a two-year window,” Redding said. “We’re looking at our effective valuation date – January to January – so it could actually be a little more or a little less depending on which side of the week the first of the year falls on.”
Caldwell expects people to simply forget about property types outside of homes and businesses; because they see it’s not worth getting it back.
“I think you’ll see more of them walking away from major tangible property — large items, sunken boats in the marina; it looks to me like they’re not coming back for them,” Caldwell said.
It is likely that some homeowners will need more time to pay their taxes than even the governor’s extension of deadlines can accomplish. There are guidelines and time limits designed to avoid mortgage foreclosures.
“We’re not a state that will shut down if someone doesn’t pay on time, there are statutory mechanisms in place,” Lee County’s Branning said.
Failure to pay the bill could make the property eligible for a tax clearance, sold to an investor but redeemable by the landowner for principal and interest. It basically involves selling the unpaid tax bill to an investor who is then entitled to the principal and interest, while the money invested funds government services.
“It will give a grace period of about two years, we’ll have a lot of questions this year from people who don’t have the ability to pay,” Branning said. “That includes payment plans and installments to spread it out up to four payments throughout the year, those are some of the things our office has come up with.”
Tax collectors are responsible for collecting the money to keep the government running.
“Our office’s role is simply to collect these funds and distribute them to the tax authorities for their operating budget,” Branning said. “Every year people suffer – this year is extraordinary and we have recognized that and that is why we are trying to extend this period.”
Bill Smith covers county and local government in Lee County. He can be reached at 239-771-1583 or [email protected]