MARCH 11, 2003

            The Value Adjustment Board met for an organizational meeting on Tuesday, March 11, 2003, at 8:30 a.m., in the Board of County Commissioner’s Meeting Room, Lake County Administration Building, Tavares, Florida. Commissioners present at the meeting were: Welton G. Cadwell, Chairman; Catherine C. Hanson; and Robert A. Pool. School Board members present: Becky Elswick; and Jimmy Conner. Others present: Sanford A. “Sandy” Minkoff, County Attorney; Frank Royce, Chief Deputy, Property Appraiser’s Office; and Toni M. Riggs, Deputy Clerk.


            Mr. Sandy Minkoff, County Attorney, explained that last year the legislature determined that counties with over 75,000 people have to use special masters to hear all cases. The special masters will issue findings of fact and conclusions of law that will come to the Value Adjustment Board (VAB) for approval. Even though the Florida Statute reads that you do not have to really have a hearing, and they could approve them as a matter of course, he personally feels that the VAB should at least let people, who do not agree, give them something in writing, and then they would approve it, or not approve it. He noted that the new legislature will eliminate all appearances of people in front of the VAB.

            Mr. Minkoff stated that the special masters, for exemption cases, have to be lawyers and, for evaluation cases, they have to be appraisers. They have to have five years experience in property tax; they cannot be employees, or elected, or appointed officials, of any entity of the state. The expenses will be split between them, with the School Board paying two-fifths, and the County paying three-fifths. Mr. Minkoff explained that last year there were approximately 220 petitions and, if each case involves an hour, they may be paying $150 an hour, and there is no way to avoid the expense. He explained the position of the Property Appraiser in past years and stated that this year, their office will be looking at the petitions more carefully and, if there are extenuating circumstances, they will grant them to eliminate those petitions. He noted that this information was received through his discussions with the Property Appraiser and his staff. On valuation cases, the tax representatives may be encouraged to file a lot more petitions, since they will have an independent appraiser hearing their cases. He feels that the number of cases may greatly increase, not decrease, because of this new process. Mr. Minkoff stated that this process is being implemented statewide, and some counties already use special masters. He stated that some counties are getting assistance from the Department of Revenue, towards their payments made to special masters, based on population, but Lake County will not be receiving assistance.

            Mr. Minkoff stated that he would like to request permission to go out for a Request For Proposal (RFP) for getting the special masters. Staff will use the County Procurement Department for this process.

            On a motion by Mr. Conner, seconded by Commr. Pool and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB approved to go out for a RFP for special masters, as requested by Mr. Minkoff, County Attorney.

            Mr. Minkoff stated that, for a long time, the Statute has allowed them to charge fees for filing of petitions, in the amount of $15 per parcel, and $5 for the additional parcels on a joint petition. He stated that it would not apply to homestead denials, and there is an exemption for people who qualify as low income. He stated that he is recommending they charge the fee, to try and limit some of the tax representatives from filing hundreds of petitions and, as in the past, not showing up for their hearings. Mr. Minkoff clarified that a special master will now be assigned to each case.

            Mr. Frank Royce, Chief Deputy, Property Appraiser’s Office, noted that the Property Appraiser’s Office has very few individuals who fall under the exemption rule. He clarified that the fee is mandatory, if it is a late homestead, and it has been charged in the past.

            On a motion by Commr. Pool, seconded by Mr. Conner and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB approved to charge $15 a petition, and an additional $5 fee per parcel, as recommended.

            Mr. Minkoff stated that it is almost certain that the new procedures are going to cause them to have an interim tax roll this year. He stated that, if the members would recall, at the end of the VAB process, the VAB certifies the tax roll as the official tax roll. They would like to have that done by October 1st, so that the Property Appraiser and Tax Collector can get the bills out by November 1st but, as seen in other counties with special masters, it will probably be February or March before they are done hearing the cases. Therefore, the VAB will need to adopt an interim roll in September and, once the cases are all done, they will adopt a final roll. Mr. Minkoff stated that, if there is a significant change in a big case, it could impact the revenue, but there is no way to get the hearings done by October 1st.

            Mr. Royce explained that there has been some changes in time frames and rules, as far as the exchange of information between the taxpayer and the Property Appraiser, and the time frame has been expanded for notification of hearing dates, therefore, the dates will not work out for the times frame they used in the past.

            Mr. Minkoff felt that, in reviewing the costs to the Property Appraiser and, since the County pays most of his costs, he feels this is going to increase the need for more people in his office. The County may see the Property Appraiser making a request for additional employees, in order to meet newly established time constraints established by the legislature.

            Mr. Minkoff informed the Board that, for those who served on the VAB during the last two years, there was a petition filed by Mr. Walter McLin and Mr. Dewey Burnsed on Lakes & Springs Subdivision. The case, two years ago, was appealed by the property owner and is pending in court. In the case last year, the VAB granted the property owners an adjustment. The Property Appraiser has filed an appeal, and the County Attorney’s Office has filed a response, after communicating with Commr. Cadwell, by providing information to the Department of Revenue, which is considering the case. Mr. Minkoff stated that, if it can go forward, the case from last year will most likely be incorporated into the same litigation, so they can get one decision.

            Mr. Minkoff stated that the VAB will not have to set aside any dates, and they will probably have a short meeting in September to do the interim roll. Then they will have a meeting in February to deal with all of the petitions. He stated that they will try to do the RFPs in a way that they fix the fees, as opposed to doing hourly fees. He noted that some cases will require two different special masters. Mr. Minkoff stated that it could possibly involve $100,000 if they have long cases, which will only offset the fees slightly.

            There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the VAB, the meeting adjourned at 8:45 a.m.





                                                                                    WELTON G. CADWELL, CHAIRMAN ATTEST: