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Tax notices hit mailboxes this week

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Barker asks that taxpayers read his letter first

By Lou Elliott Jones, Editor

The U.S. Postal Service will begin delivering TRIM — Truth in Millage — notices to Levy County property owners this week.

    And the news in those 48,776 notices might not be what some folks expect, Oz Barker, Levy County Property Appraiser said.

    But before picking up the telephone or heading to Barker's office in a lather, he would like you to sit down with the tax bill, read a letter he has written explaining the property tax notice and any changes.

    Barker has gone to great pains to write the letter explaining that despite the constant reports of dropping property values, due to a decline in the economy and the demand for homes, some property owners may see an increase in their notice.

    On Monday his office was closed from noon to 1:30 p.m. for a working lunch as his entire staff went over its procedures and prepared for the annual onslaught of phone calls, questions and complaints as the notices arrive in the mail.

    It's due to a combination of factors:

This is not a bill, it is a notice showing a property's value and proposed tax rates and taxes. The tax bill will come from the Levy County Tax Collector's office after local governments set their final millage rate.

Local governments have set the highest millage rate they intend to charge. They had to do so by Aug. 4 as required by the state. The millage rates cannot go higher, so the proposed taxes cannot go higher. The government boards and agencies can only lower the millage.

The “just value” of a home is synonymous to 100 percent of its fair market value. That's what Barker is required to do under a state Supreme Court ruling.

A property's value is determined on a set date: Jan. 1. So the values in the notices going out this week are nine months old. This year's drop in market values will not be reflected until the 2010 tax notices.

Even though a property has a fair market value and a home's assessed value can be lower due to classification, use, and other requirements, the law implementing the Save Our Homes Amendment may actually be causing an increase in the assessed value. That's because the cap on the assessed value is 3 percent or the Consumer Price Index change for last year of 0.1 percent, which ever is lowest. But it cannot raise the assessed value higher than the market value.

    “People that's been on homestead exemptions for four or more years are going to be seeing an increase,” Barker said. “People who built homes in the last two or three years are going to be seeing a little decrease.”

There are school and non-school values reflected on the notice. That's because the second $25,000 homestead exemption on property valued in excess of $50,000 is not used for school tax purposes. The same is true for the $25,000 tangible personal property exemption for people and businesses who file tangible personal property tax returns.

Barker is aware some folks may not have filed for the exemption and he is asking them to contact the Personal Property Department at the telephone number on the TRIM notice.

    “Due to market conditions during 2008, the 2009 Tax Roll reflects a lower just (market) value for approximately 91 percent of Levy County properties, and approximately 65 percent will reflect a lower assessed (taxable) value,” Barker said in the letter.

    Barker is asking that owners of homes purchased in 2008  who have not filed for an exemption, must remember to file for it within 25 days of the mailing of the TRIM notice.

    Last but not least, Barker is asking for patience in contacting his office . With 48,776 folks receiving notices, it can mean a long wait to be served.

    And for taxpayers who are concerned about the millage rates, the notice lists when public hearings will be held by the taxing authorities. He is urging the public to attend the meetings to understand their tax rates.