--Romeo & Juliet, Act II, Scene II
Well, a rose by any other name may smell just as sweet to Shakespeare, but don’t try to call the tax collector to ask a property appraisal question. Not knowing which office to call may simply get you an exasperated employee who is unable to assist you.
If you are not sure exactly which department to call about your property tax question, try finding out if your local government has a “311” type of service. This is the concept of 411—telephone directory information—writ small to address only phone numbers in your municipal or county government. If the number to use is not actually 311, there may be another number which is a general information number staffed by persons whose job it is to steer you in the right direction. Find that number and you will be off to a flying start.
To give you a head-start on the nomenclature and division-of-labor issue, use the following as a primer.
Who does what
Several entities determine the outcome of your annual property tax bill. While the names of these entities vary from state to state—and from time to time—the names used in Florida generally exemplify the roles of the various entities in determining your property tax bill.
The property appraiser
Just as the name implies, your county property appraiser assesses the value of property. He or she also makes exemption and classification decisions. In many jurisdictions, this position is called tax assessor. In fact, the position was called tax assessor in Florida until 1980. At that time it was changed to property appraiser to try to provide a more descriptive name of the functions of the office, and to demarcate it more clearly from that of the tax collector.
But woe be unto those who don’t keep their lingo up-to-date. A recent straw ballot on whether the property appraiser should be elected in Miami-Dade County, Florida, rather than appointed by the County Manager, as is presently done, was (properly) stricken from the ballot by a circuit judge on the ground that it was not clear whether the ballot question referred to the property appraiser or tax collector. So much for a rose by any other name smelling just as sweet!
The tax collector
The tax collector—again, as the name implies--acts as collection agency and accountant, adding up the various taxes, billing property owners and collecting property taxes and other charges billed on the tax bill. The tax collector sells tax certificates to enforce unpaid and delinquent taxes on real estate and enforces tangible personal property taxes through warrants and seizure, as provided by state statute.
The taxing authorities
Taxing authorities—cities, counties, community development districts, water management districts, etc.—determine local millage rates and special assessments. And while we’re talking about millage (don’t let spell-check “correct” this to “mileage”!), a mill is simply a tenth of a per cent, and is a measure that makes it easier to discuss tax rates. Millage is synonymous with tax rate, expressed in terms of tenths of a per cent.
Value adjustment board
The Value Adjustment Board hears and rules on property owners complaints about assessed valuation of real estate and tangible personal property, exemption denials and disapprovals of special classification, such as greenbelt or agricultural.
Outside Florida, this function may be served by an entity known as the property appraisal adjustment board, tax equalization board, tax adjustment board, or some similar name.
As with any other question regarding property tax rights and obligations in your jurisdiction, confer with a local property tax consultant. He or she will be familiar with the regulations which govern in your area.
There, now, don’t you feel better informed already?
Daniel A. Weiss is a former Attorney Special Master for the Miami-Dade County Value Adjustment Board with over 25 years property tax experience. Mr. Weiss represented the Miami-Dade County taxing authorities in litigation and appeals between 1981 and 1995 and has since represented taxpayers in property tax matters.
Mr. Weiss was named one of the top lawyers in real estate, zoning and land use by South Florida Legal Guide 2007. In Florida Super Lawyers 2006, Weiss was named one of the top 6 local government lawyers in South Florida.
In Florida Trend magazine™'s Legal Elite's issue, July 2004, Mr. Weiss was selected by his peers as one of the top 30 government lawyers in the State of Florida.
For a free consultation regarding your property, contact us.