A REGULAR MEETING OF THE VALUE ADJUSTMENT BOARD
February 28, 2011
The Lake County Value Adjustment Board met in regular session on Monday, February 28, 2011, at 10:00 a.m., in the Board of County Commissioners’ Meeting Room, Lake County Administration Building, Tavares, Florida. Present at the meeting were: Commr. Jimmy Conner, Chairman; Commr. Leslie Campione; Tod Howard representing the Lake County School Board; and Will Walker and Ralph Smith as citizen members. Others present were: Alison Yurko, Counsel for the Value Adjustment Board; Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance; Frank Royce, Chief Deputy, Property Appraiser’s Office; Peter Peebles, Senior Supervisor, Property Appraiser’s Office; Robbie Ross, Director of Tangible and Agricultural Properties, Property Appraiser’s Office; and Courtney Vincent, Deputy Clerk.
authority of the value adjustment board
Commr. Conner, asked Ms. Alison Yurko, counsel for the Value Adjustment Board to explain the authority of the Board.
Ms. Yurko explained the role of the Value Adjustment Board was to make a determination whether to accept the recommendation of the Special Magistrate or remand the petition back to the Property Appraiser’s Office. She mentioned valuation petitions would be remanded back to the Property Appraiser, the Property Appraiser would conduct a remand review and the petitioner would be allowed the opportunity to have a continuation hearing and the ability to present further evidence. She noted a separate vote would be needed for each of the Special Magistrate recommendation categories presented before the Board. She reported correspondence had been received from two petitioners, Mr. David Cottle and Mr. Richard Jeppesen, expressing concerns over the petition process. She remarked Mr. Cottle did not agree with the Special Magistrate’s recommendation and Mr. Jeppesen expressed confusion on the rules concerning ex-parte communication and exchange of evidence.
Ms. Lehman reported that Tab 2 of the agenda contained five color-coded dividers representing the five categories of Special Magistrate recommendations. She listed them as the following: Category 1, red, contained recommendations for petitions to be denied; Category 2, yellow, contained recommendations for petitions to be partially granted; Category 3, green, contained recommendations for petitions to be granted; Category 4, blue, contained petitions recommended to be denied and the petitioner filed timely written responses; and Category 5, orange, contained a remanded petition that had been recommended to be partially granted.
Commr. Conner stressed the Board did not have the authority to change assessments. He stated the Board had the authority to remand individual petitions back to the Property Appraiser’s Office and the Special Magistrate under unusual circumstances. He specified five motions would be needed for Tab 2.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Mr. Smith, and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the Board approved the Minutes of November 29, 2010 (Special Meeting) as presented.
consideration of special magistrate recommendations
Category 1 – recommendations to deny petitions
Commr. Conner explained the recommendations of the Special Magistrates would be considered by color-coded categories.
Mr. Walker asked Ms. Yurko if exemption petitions could be remanded.
Ms. Yurko explained an exemption petition would be remanded back to the Property Appraiser if it was determined by the Board there was insubstantial or incompetent evidence or that the presumption of correctness was not met and at that point the Property Appraiser’s Office would review the petition before submitting their remand review back to the Board. She added exemption petitions were not subject to the rule regarding continuation hearings for remanded petitions, stating she could research it further should the Board request it.
Mr. Walker asked if Circuit Court would be the only recourse for a petitioner should the Board decide to uphold the recommendations of the Special Magistrate.
Ms. Yurko answered yes; every petitioner had the option to take their petition to Circuit Court.
Mr. Smith stated he wanted to discuss petition 2010-58, commenting that it was similar to a case that came before the Board the previous year. He mentioned the Board remanded the previous year’s petition and the Special Magistrate overturned it after reconsidering it.
Commr. Conner commented that for petition 2010-58 there was no evidence the facility was used for religious purposes. He asked Mr. Smith if he had any reason to believe it was used for religious purposes.
Mr. Smith replied he did not know how it could be proven except for the fact it was used ten days out of the year and used for nothing else which to him meant it was being used exclusively for religious purposes or else sitting vacant.
Mr. Frank Royce, Chief Deputy for the Property Appraiser’s Office, stated there were no examples given of any use on the property other than the lawn being mowed once in a while.
Commr. Conner asked if there was any evidence to prove it was used for religious purposes.
Mr. Smith asked if there was any evidence it was not used for religious purposes, remarking there was always the presumption that the petitioner was telling the truth.
Commr. Conner stated the Board did not have the authority to change the exemption; they only had the ability to remand it. He asked if any other Board members had a problem with petition 2010-58.
Mr. Howard asked if the property in question was the one with the tent on it right before CR 561.
Mr. Royce clarified there was no tent on the property last year though there might be a tent currently on the property.
Mr. Howard said he knew the owner put a tent on the property at times but he did not know what the tent was for except for a sign that mentioned Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Mr. Royce reported there was no testimony that there was ever a tent on that particular property.
Commr. Campione mentioned the backup stated Mr. Gary Baynon, trustee for the property, testified that since acquiring the parcel the petitioner had occasionally used the parcel for parking when congregation members gathered to perform congregation activities.
Mr. Royce commented there was no explanation or clarification of where people were parking from or why the statement was made.
Commr. Campione remarked if people parked there for congregation activities it gave the appearance the property was associated with religious purposes.
Ms. Yurko explained there was a process for administrative review should the Board decide to look further into that petition, noting she would not recommend the Board pursue that option.
Mr. Smith made a motion to remand petition 2010-58.
The motion died for lack of a second.
Mr. Smith stated he wished to discuss petition 2010-21. He remarked the petition challenged the Homestead Exemption, mentioning the petitioner had been laid off from his job in February of 2009 and according to the statement the petitioners leased their home to friends for a part of 2009 and 2010. He added the petitioner returned to Florida in February of 2010. He asked if the law required the first of January as the date of residence to claim the exemption.
Mr. Royce confirmed that was correct.
Mr. Smith asked if he traded his home with someone in January and temporarily moved out of the State if he would be allowed his Homestead Exemption should his vacation became public knowledge.
Mr. Royce stated he did not think that statement pertained to the petition in question.
Mr. Smith claimed there was a parallel, noting people were having difficulty finding work and moving out of the area because of that.
Ms. Yurko asked if Mr. Smith’s concern was that it seemed harsh and unfair that if the petitioner was not residing on the property as of the first of January they were not entitled to the exemption.
Mr. Smith replied yes, that was his concern. He asked what the necessity of the Board was if they were required to approve what the Property Appraiser decided.
Commr. Conner explained the Board had limited authority under the law and the Board had the authority to remand the petition back to the Property Appraiser if the ruling was seen to be unduly harsh or unfair. He stated Mr. Smith needed to discuss the petition in question and clarify what he found objectionable and then tell the Board what action he would like them to take.
Mr. Smith clarified that what he found objectionable was the severity of the law.
Ms. Yurko explained the law provided a dispassionate requirement that the petitioner had to be residing in the property as of the first of January.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Mr. Howard, and carried by a 4-1 vote, the Board approved to uphold the Special Magistrates’ recommendation to deny the petitions listed in Category 1.
Mr. Smith voted “no.”
category 2 – recommendations to partially grant petitions
The Chairman asked if there were any comments for Category 2. Seeing none, he asked for a motion on Category 2.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Commr. Campione, and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the Board approved to uphold the Special Magistrates’ recommendation to partially grant the petitions listed in Category 2.
category 3 – recommendations to grant petitions
The Chairman asked if there were any comments for Category 3. Seeing none, he asked for a motion on Category 3.
On a motion by Mr. Howard, seconded by Mr. Smith, and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the Board approved to uphold the Special Magistrates’ recommendation to grant the petitions listed in Category 3.
Category 4 – recommendations to deny petitions with petitioner written response
Commr. Conner asked if any of the Board members wished to discuss petitions under Category 4, petitions recommended to be denied where a written response to the recommendation was received from the petitioner. He stated petition 2010-219 would be discussed first.
Commr. Campione mentioned she wanted to look at the language Mr. Richard Jeppesen, the petitioner for 2010-219, claimed was confusing in his post-recommendation correspondence regarding the rights of the petitioner for exchange of evidence.
Commr. Conner remarked he had reviewed the case and opined a reasonable argument could be made that Mr. Jeppesen did not understand what his rights were.
Mr. Peter Peebles, Senior Supervisor for the Property Appraiser’s Office, informed the Board Mr. Jeppesen had submitted petitions in prior years so the petition in question was not his first and the rules for evidence exchange were cited at Mr. Jeppesen’s hearing. He explained the petition form also stated the rules for the exchange to ensure petitioners received the information. He noted Mr. Jeppesen had appeared before the Special Magistrate the previous year and they went through the same issue of his wanting to provide evidence he did not submit.
Mr. Smith agreed with Commr. Campione in wanting to review the language of the rule in question. He stated he would give the tax payers every benefit of the doubt and he did not see a problem with remanding the petition back to the Special Magistrate to ensure all evidence was considered.
Commr. Campione asked if the Board could look at the language used in the rule concerning evidence exchange. She explained that from the letter Mr. Jeppesen submitted it appeared he legitimately misunderstood that he would have the opportunity to bring forth evidence at the meeting.
Mr. Walker asked if the rule in question stated if a petitioner wished to provide evidence it must be submitted prior to the hearing.
Mr. Royce clarified that every petitioner was sent a letter from the Property Appraiser requesting the information, outlining the Statute, and informing the petitioner that if they wished to submit any evidence for the Special Magistrate to consider it must be shared with the Property Appraiser at least 15 days prior to the hearing date. He explained it was stated in Mr. Jeppesen’s letter he chose not to participate in that particular exchange. He stated the question pertained to Florida Statute Section 194.034(1)(d), and read the applicable part of the Statute to the Board.
Commr. Campione mentioned the excerpt in Mr. Jeppesen’s letter where he stated if the petitioner chose not to participate in the evidence exchange he would still be permitted to present evidence at the hearing and asked where Mr. Jeppesen had received that information.
Ms. Yurko explained the rule stated all petitioners had the option to participate in an exchange of evidence with the Property Appraiser and should the petitioner choose not to participate in the evidence exchange they could still present evidence for consideration by the Board or the Special Magistrate; however if the Property Appraiser made a request in writing for evidence before the hearing and the petitioner had the evidence and knowingly refused to provide it, the evidence could not be presented by the petitioner or accepted for consideration by the Board or Special Magistrate. She added the rule suggested if the Property Appraiser requested the evidence 15 days in advance the petitioner must provide it and the Property Appraiser then had the obligation to provide their evidence seven days prior to the hearing date to the petitioner. She asked Mr. Royce if their office specifically said they wanted the petitioner to submit their evidence.
Mr. Royce responded the request was in writing.
Commr. Conner stressed the Board could not set precedence to reward someone for not providing the evidence as dictated in the rules, adding he no longer advised the Board to remand the petition.
Commr. Campione asked if the letter sent by the Property Appraiser’s Office stated if a petitioner did not provide the information they would not be entitled to present evidence at the hearing.
Mr. Royce explained the letter said if the petitioner wanted to submit evidence it must be submitted at least 15 days prior to the hearing.
Commr. Campione expressed concern with the wording of the rule regarding the exchange of evidence and stated it would be helpful if it was crystal clear that if a petitioner did not submit evidence they would not have an opportunity to bring evidence to the hearing.
Mr. Howard mentioned the meeting had been properly noticed and noted the petitioners for both petitions in Category 4 were not in attendance.
Mr. Walker stated for the record that Mr. Jeppesen contacted him by phone and he informed Mr. Jeppesen that he could not speak with him because of the Sunshine Law.
Commr. Campione informed the Board she had received a phone call from Mr. Jeppesen and after consulting with the County Attorney she told Mr. Jeppesen she could not speak with him regarding his petition because it was ex-parte communication.
Mr. Smith reported Mr. Jeppesen attempted to contact him twice but he did not take the call.
Commr. Conner stated he had received a phone call from Mr. Jeppesen as well, clarifying he did not return the call and had no communication with the petitioner.
Mr. Robbie Ross, Director of Tangible and Agricultural Properties for the Property Appraiser’s Office, explained a memo from Mr. Ed Havill, the Lake County Property Appraiser, was attached to the petition form every year. He reported the letter stated, “Please be advised that in compliance with Chapter 194.011(4)(a), Florida Statutes, I am requesting copies of all testimony and evidence which you intend to use when you present your case before the Lake County Value Adjustment Board.” He continued to read the letter which quoted Section 194.034(1)(d) of the Florida Statutes specifying a petitioner could not present evidence for consideration if they refused the written request from the Property Appraiser asking for copies of their evidence. He added the letter also required the petitioner provide two copies of all testimony and evidence submitted no later than 15 days prior to the scheduled hearing date, specifically stating the documentation needed to be received by the Property Appraiser’s Office, not postmarked, by that deadline. He explained the rules regarding evidence exchange were clearly stated with the petition forms their office handed out as well as the petition forms downloaded from their website.
The Chairman stated the Board would now discuss petition 2010-350.
Mr. Smith commented the petition for 2010-350 stated the property had been purchased for $175,000 in May of 2009 and the Property Appraiser was assessing the value at $204,000. He explained he did not understand how the value increased by $30,000 in so short a time and opined Mr. David Cottle, the petitioner, was reasonable in his request for a lower assessment value. He stated he would like the petition to be remanded.
Commr. Campione asked why there would be such an increase between the purchase price and the assessment value.
Mr. Royce commented the petition did not state the $175,000 was the purchase price of a bank foreclosure property.
Mr. Peebles explained the petitioner won their case in 2009 based on evidence submitted to the Special Magistrate, noting the value was decreased below any other property in the subdivision in 2009 because of that ruling. He remarked it was due to the lowering of the Cottle property that the Property Appraiser’s Office reappraised the complete subdivision based on the market values of the sales in 2009, noting all the other properties in the subdivision saw a reduction of value for 2010 because of the reappraisal. He stated Mr. Cottle’s property was valued too low because of the previous year’s ruling so while all the other property owners saw a decrease, his property value was increased to match the value of the surrounding properties.
Mr. Will Walker asked if Mr. Cottle would still receive the “Save Your Home” Benefit.
Mr. Peebles replied that yes, he would still receive it.
Mr. Yurko stated if the Board remanded the petition they would need to prove the Property Appraiser did not establish a presumption of correctness and that there was not competent or substantial evidence to justify the recommendation of the Special Magistrate.
The Chairman asked if there were any other comments on petition 2010-350. Seeing none, he asked for a motion on Category 4.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Commr. Campione, and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the Board approved to uphold the Special Magistrates’ recommendation to deny the petitions listed in Category 4.
category 5 – remanded petition
The Chairman asked if there were any comments for Category 5. Seeing none, he asked for a motion on Category 5.
On a motion by Mr. Smith, seconded by Mr. Howard, and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the Board approved to uphold the Special Magistrate’s recommendation to partially grant the petition listed in Category 5.
APPROVAL OF INVOICES
Ms. Lehman recounted that it had been decided the invoices received from the Special Magistrates would be paid after they were reviewed for reasonableness, timeliness, and accuracy and then brought before the Board for their review. She requested the Board approve the paid invoices presented.
Mr. Walker commented that all of the invoices were itemized with the exception of the invoice for Special Magistrate Mr. Paul MacDermott. He asked if it was standard to request an itemized invoice.
Ms. Lehman explained an itemized breakdown of the invoice Mr. MacDermott submitted had been provided but had not been included in the agenda notebook presented to the Board.
Commr. Conner asked if the itemized invoices could be included in the future.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Commr. Campione, and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the Board approved the Special Magistrate invoices.
Recertification of the 2010 tax roll
Commr. Conner asked Mr. Royce if he was prepared for the recertification of the tax roll.
Mr. Royce responded he was and that he had two forms, one for real property and one for tangible personal property. He read the Certification of the Value Adjustment Board forms that showed any change in taxable value to the tax roll. He reported that on the real property roll there was a reduction of $10,757,957 which resulted in a new taxable value of the real estate tax roll to be $15,718,914,818. He reported on the tangible personal property tax roll there was zero net change so the taxable value would continue to be $1,299,112,966. He stated both forms were dated for February 28, 2011 and both required the Chairman’s signature.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Commr. Campione, and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the Board approved authorizing the Chairman to sign the recertification of the tax roll forms for real property and personal tangible property.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the Board, the meeting was adjourned at 10:45 a.m.
JIMMY CONNER, CHAIRMAn
NEIL KELLY, CLERK