OCTOBER 28, 2008

The Lake County Value Adjustment Board (VAB) met in regular session on Tuesday, October 28, 2008, at 1:30 p.m., in the Board of County Commissioners’ Meeting Room, Lake County Administration Building, Tavares, Florida.  Commissioners present at the meeting were: Jennifer Hill, Vice-Chairman and Linda Stewart.  Larry Metz was present from the School Board and Ralph Smith was present as the citizen member appointed by the School Board. Others present were: Leigh Tucker, Counsel for the Value Adjustment Board; Sanford A. “Sandy” Minkoff, County Attorney; Sarah Rissman, Assistant County Attorney; Frank Royce, Chief Deputy, Property Appraiser’s Office; Barbara F. Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance; and Ellie McDonald, Deputy Clerk.  Will Walker, citizen member appointed by the Board of County Commissioners was not present.

Commr. Hill called the meeting to order at 1:33 p.m. and stated that the meeting had been duly advertised and a quorum was present.


Commr. Hill introduced Ms. Leigh Tucker as the new attorney for the VAB.


On a motion by Commr. Stewart, seconded by Mr. Metz and carried unanimously by a 4-0 vote, the VAB approved the Minutes of the August 19, 2008, VAB Meeting.


Commr. Hill stated that they would now discuss the Special Master process.

Ms. Tucker stated that Mr. Minkoff informed her that last year they had success using the two Special Magistrates (Magistrates) who were currently under contract and that those contracts could easily be renewed without having to issue a bid process.  She mentioned that some of the members were familiar with the process used last year and asked if that was something that could be considered.  She commented that that Mr. Mort Aulls, an attorney from Eustis, heard the exemptions, and Mr. David Taylor, an appraiser from Orlando, heard the valuations.

Commr. Hill questioned whether they could simply reappoint them without having to go through the bid process.

Mr. Metz questioned the downside for the bid process.

Ms. Tucker stated that timing was the issue noting that they had a large number of Petitions before the VAB, and that Mr. Aulls and Mr. Taylor were both qualified and familiar with the process, so it would seem logical to reappoint them due to the time shortage.  She commented, however, there was the option to ask for bids for more people.

Mr. Metz asked if there was a possibility of doing a parallel track on that.  He commented that it would seem reasonable to allow people the opportunity to serve and by using the same Magistrates as were used last year, they would prevent others from even being considered.  He explained, however, if there was a time crunch which would create a backlog if a bid process was sent out then perhaps they could work on the backlog of cases and also entertain other people to be put on the list.

Ms. Tucker stated that she understood they were very backlogged; however, the ability to have more people on the list was a possibility she could research and had considered having an alternate track.

Commr. Hill asked if there was, in fact, an alternate Magistrate.

Mr. Sandy Minkoff, County Attorney, representing the Property Appraiser’s office stated that they had multiple year contracts with both Mr. Aulls and Mr. Taylor and had planned to renew them but because there was a new Value Adjustment Board, they did not.  He commented that by going through the process and waiting sixty days to hire new folks it would delay the process significantly.  He noted that they could not schedule the hearings until they get a Special Master so that would put the hearings into April, May or June causing difficulties with the tax roll.

Mr. Metz commented that he wanted to be sure they were renewing the former Magistrates’ contracts due to the time crunch, not simply because they had used them previously.  He mentioned that because of the backlog and the use of the former Magistrates, he would not be in favor of a multi-year contract renewal, but rather a one year renewal and to reconsider a bid process for the following year.

Mr. Minkoff clarified that the present contract allows for multiple renewals one year at a time and that each year they have been rehiring them.

On a motion by Mr. Metz, seconded by Mr. Smith and carried unanimously by a 4-0 vote, the VAB approved the renewal of the one-year contracts with Mr. Aulls and Mr. Taylor as Special Magistrates providing the same terms and conditions contained in the prior contract.


Ms. Tucker referred to the 2008 Limited Interim Value Adjustment Board Training (Interim Training) Manual noting that Rule 12D-9 (12D-9) was an excellent resource for all of the proposed rules and changes that have been made.  She stated that the Interim Training sets forth procedures for hearings, procedures to be used by Special Magistrates during hearings, and the duties of the clerk.  She commented that the items on the Agenda today were to be addressed as specified by 12D-9.  She explained that the training was not required for counties with a population over 75,000 people, such as Lake County, but that it was good reference material containing a great deal of information for members of the VAB, Special Magistrates, legal counsel, and the clerk.  She further stated that 12D-9 explains the authority and duties of the Special Magistrate; defines the various types of Petitions; provides the required Petition forms; and forms used for the Special Magistrate’s decisions.  She felt it was important for everyone to have a copy of 12D-9 which could be obtained from the internet or she could provide them a copy.  She reported that the proposed Rule asks the VAB to appoint a designee for specified issues and that one of those issues was before the VAB today.  She explained that they have 34 Petitions that were filed past the cutoff date and are considered late and rather than convening a separate board meeting, either the clerk or the VAB attorney could be designated to review those Petitions to see if good cause has been shown by those filing late.  She remarked that she would be happy to do that if they would like, and under 12D-9 the VAB would today make that designation.

There was a discussion among Mr. Metz, Commr. Hill and Ms. Tucker regarding the use of the Clerk’s Office as clerical support for the VAB noting that beyond recording the meetings and hearings, the clerk’s duties were specified in 12D-9.

Mr. Metz requested the clerk compile a notebook which could be referred to during meetings containing copies of all the Rules and statutes pertaining to the VAB.

Ms. Tucker remarked that within the next couple of weeks perhaps they could have a notebook for the members as suggested.  She then returned to the subject of designating the clerk or the attorney to determine whether good cause could be shown for these late Petitions and noted that there was also a provision for anyone who would like to reschedule their hearing, for whatever reason, and the designee would also make that determination.  She reiterated that she would be willing to serve in that capacity.

A discussion ensued as to the cost effectiveness of using the clerk or the attorney and the knowledge necessary to make determinations in this instance.

Mr. Metz suggested that the Clerk’s Office should be the primary administrative support for the Board, but saw the need for the attorney to review the Petitions and make the determination of good cause.  He stated further that he felt all the requests should be routed to the clerk who would compile them and forward them to counsel for the VAB for review and input.

Mr. Minkoff explained that the process last year was to route the documents through the clerk, noting that the County Attorney’s office assisted with some of the paperwork last year due to employee shortages.  He commented that the 34 late Petitions before the Board today went to the clerk first.

Commr. Hill stated that she would prefer that the attorney provide legal input and make determinations on the Petitions.

Mr. Metz made a motion to provide a process whereby any Petitions coming before the VAB were to be processed by the Clerk’s Office and then once they were prepared for an agenda of the VAB meeting, legal counsel would review them and provide any legal input to the Board prior to the meeting.

Ms. Barbara F. Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance, asked that it be specified that the Petitions being spoken of were only those late Petitions, not all Petitions.

Mr. Metz clarified his motion to reflect that it regarded only the late Petitions.  Commr. Stewart seconded the motion.

Under discussion, Commr. Stewart questioned whether an attorney was required to review every application that comes through or if the clerk could process them and pass the ones that need interpretation to counsel.

Ms. Tucker stated that it was her understanding that any Petition filed after the cutoff date would be considered late and the Board could not extend that deadline.  She stated that the Rule reads that the Board or the Board’s designee which includes the clerk, the Board attorney, or Special Magistrate shall determine whether the taxpayer has demonstrated in writing good cause justifying consideration of the Petition.  If the Board or the Board’s designee determines that the Petitioner has demonstrated good cause, the Board or Board’s designee shall accept the Petition and so notify the Petitioner, the Property Appraiser and the tax bill clerk.  She remarked that it was necessary to determine whether the Board wants to make that determination or designate one of those other members to do it.

Due to some confusion and misunderstanding, Mr. Royce explained that today they were asking this Board’s counsel to review only the 34 late Petitions to see if they meet the qualifications to be heard.  He stated that if the Petitions met those qualifications, then Ms. Tucker would return them to the clerk to be included in the schedule of hearings by the Special Master.  Once they were heard, he explained that the recommendations from the Special Master would come back to the VAB for a final decision on all the Petitions heard, including those qualified late Petitions.

Mr. Metz asked if he could withdraw his former motion.

Commr. Hill asked Commr. Stewart if she would like to withdraw her second to that motion and she replied affirmatively.

Mr. Metz moved that they have the 34 late filed Petitions administratively processed by the clerk and then transmitted to the VAB attorney who would then determine whether there was good cause for those Petitions to be heard.

Commr. Stewart seconded the motion and asked for clarification as to whether it was just for those 34 late Petitions or for the whole procedure.

Mr. Minkoff interjected requesting the inclusion of any future late filings.  He remarked that once the tax bills go out on November 1, there may be additional late Petitions as people realize they should have filed.  He commented that including all late filed Petitions in the motion would probably prevent readdressing this issue.

Mr. Metz moved to amend his motion to include any and all late filed Petitions.

Commr. Hill asked for a vote on the amended motion, seconded by Commr. Stewart, to include any and all late filed Petitions which carried unanimously by a 4-0 vote.

Commr. Hill asked for a vote on the original motion, seconded by Commr. Stewart, to have the 34 late filed Petitions administratively processed by the clerk and then transmitted to the VAB attorney which carried unanimously by a 4-0 vote.

Ms. Tucker stated that with regard to 12D-9 it was very important to note that Ex Parte Communications whereby neither party nor any person interested in the proceeding or its outcome should communicate for any reason with the Board without all parties being present or without providing a copy of any written communication to the other party should be adhered.  She explained that she would contact each citizen member individually regarding these restrictive requirements.


Ms. Tucker stated that both Rules 12D-9 and 12D-10 (12D-10) were addressed in the Interim Training Manual and recommended they read the Manual before tackling the proposed Rules.  She explained that 12D-10 spells out the taxpayer rights and responsibilities.  She suggested reading 12D-9 first because it is a manifestation of those rights and responsibilities as well as the reasons for the procedures used by the VAB due to those rights and responsibilities which protect the citizens’ right of due process and describes the circumstances under which the taxpayers’ are to provide the Board with specific information.  She noted that the qualifications for appointments to the Board and appointment of counsel, which has already been taken care of, are included in the Rule and provides for the administrative review for just valuation.  She commented that the requirements for recommendations of the Special Magistrate, the decision of the VAB to adopt or remand his decision back to the Property Appraiser were also addressed in 12D-10.  It also classifies the different types of Petitions that will come before the board into exemptions and portability.  She remarked that in the past the County Attorney’s office put together a system classifying the Petitions with the Special Magistrates recommendations and all efforts would be made to replicate that process this year.  She commented that she would schedule individual time with the citizen members to go through the Interim Training Process and Rules to answer any questions they may have.

Commr. Hill commented that Mr. Smith was not familiar with how the process was last year and questioned whether it would remain the same where the VAB either approves or disapproves the recommendation of the Special Magistrate.  She noted that the Board could not make determinations and recommendations to make any changes.

Ms. Tucker stated that it was her understanding from speaking with Mr. Minkoff that the Special Magistrate reviews each individual case, makes the recommendation and listens to testimony with all the evidence provided and once he makes the recommendation he turns it over to the VAB for review.  She explained that the color-coded chart provided last year assisted the Board in distinguishing between a duplication of prior testimony or new arguments from the last time the Magistrate reviewed it.

Commr. Hill suggested that Ms. Tucker review the process with the new members of the Board in order to familiarize them with the format.

Ms. Tucker stated that she hoped to meet with the citizen members, especially, to discuss any questions regarding the Interim Training process as well as pertinent chapters of the Government-in-the-Sunshine Manual.


Ms. Tucker stated that the Clerk’s Office had today provided the VAB members with a Government-In-The-Sunshine Manual which is an excellent manual put out by the Attorney General’s office every year regarding Florida’s Sunshine Law, Public Records Law, and Code of Ethics.  She noted that penalties for violations of the laws could be very steep.  She commented that the Overview of the Sunshine Law pamphlet received today by the Clerk’s Office was an excellent starting point for those requirements.  She expressed her goal to make sure everyone was comfortable with Chapters 119 and 286 and their requirements.  She remarked that she wanted everyone to feel free to call her with any questions they may have.


Ms. Tucker mentioned that the Interim Training Manual is a PowerPoint presentation located at which covers a great deal of information.  She stated that within the Manual, the Florida Property Tax Structure distinguishes between real property, which for the most part is land, and personal property which includes everything else.  She explained that the Property Appraiser generally does not use personal property to come up with a just value of the land, although on occasion if personal property is a fixture on the land that would be included.  She commented that even though this Board is not required to take Interim Training, it would benefit everyone greatly by increasing their knowledge of the property tax structure in Florida and the exemptions for each classification.

Commr. Hill questioned if there were any of the amendments on the ballot, if approved, would change the tax structure in determining property appraisals.

Mr. Royce responded that he did not believe that anything on the ballot, whether approved or disapproved, would change the process for this year.  He stated that none of the Petitions in Lake County relate to any of the amendments on the ballot.

Mr. Metz remarked that he would like to know the meeting schedule.

Mr. Royce explained that there are two rounds of Value Adjustment Board hearings before the two Special Masters, the first of which is for exemptions and agricultural classifications.  The clerk schedules the date with the Magistrate, reserves Board Chambers for the hearing, and notifies counsel, noting that counsel does not attend the hearings.  The Petitioners are given 25 days notice in writing of the hearing date.  He explained that a hearing date is set for exemptions and classifications along with a reschedule date and that the VAB would likely get the recommendations from the Magistrate in January or maybe not until February.  He stated that the VAB would meet to make a decision on the recommendations.  He reported that valuation cases probably would not be initiated until January, or February, and may go into March.  Therefore, he commented that they were looking at April or May before this Board would meet on valuation Petitions.  He noted that last year it took two meetings for valuations even though they were not lengthy.

Commr. Hill asked if the 34 plus late Petitions would be heard prior to this January or February or would they be heard at the January/February date.

Mr. Royce responded that it would depend on whether they were valuation or exemption and agriculture, noting that most of the late Petitions were valuations.  So, if they were exemptions or agriculture they would try to include them in the first hearing in order to hear all exemptions and agriculture hearings at the same time.

When questioned whether Ms. Tucker should distribute copies of the late Petitions to the Board members or forward them to the clerk, Mr. Royce responded by stating that they came through the clerk, who logged them in as far as filing, collected their $15 filing fee, passed them to him to begin process as far as working the Petitions, answering, and contacting those taxpayers.  He explained that he does all the scheduling for the Magistrate because his office knows which Petitions should be heard together and those that will take longer than others.

Mr. Smith inquired as to whether a Board member would be allowed to attend any of these hearings related to the 34 late Petitions before the Magistrate or if that was prohibited by the Sunshine Law.

Ms. Tucker responded by stating that it would depend on how many members were there and their purpose for attending.

Mr. Smith commented that he would like to attend as an observer only.

Ms. Tucker stated she was not aware of the ramifications of attending for that purpose and that she would look into that issue.

Mr. Royce remarked that since a Magistrate has been hearing the Petitions, which has been during the past five years, he had never seen a board member in the audience.  He suggested obtaining advice from their attorney.  He commented that they go through the process setting up the hearing dates with the Magistrate, who hears those cases, and he will make recommendations which come back to the VAB and then the clerk and VAB attorney will set a date to hear those recommendations.

Commr. Hill commented that they usually get the recommendations at least a week ahead of time so they can discuss any one of these with counsel prior to the meeting.  She noted that they would be given backup on certain of the recommendations.

Mr. Metz questioned the standard of review of a case coming before the Board and wanted to know whether it was de novo or if it was to determine whether or not the Magistrate went beyond the requirements of the law.

Ms. Tucker stated that provided the Magistrate has included within his recommendation all the requirements according to the Rules, the Board’s duties as laid out in the Interim Training Manual depend upon some of the issues contained therein whether or not the Board decides to adopt his recommendation, disagree with the Magistrate’s recommendation or remand it back to the Property Appraiser’s office.  On each of the Petitions, the Magistrate’s recommendation has been taken from the issue before him, that he considered the evidence and then formulated the recommendation brought to this Board.  She commented that once the VAB receives the recommendation it was not a review process like a court would review a case on a de novo basis, but rather a compilation of the hearings on a color coded list for reference to his recommendations.  She explained that there was no more evidence other than what was presented to the Magistrate.  She asked that if anyone had any questions regarding the process or Rules to contact her and she would assist them in any way she could.


            There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the VAB, the meeting adjourned at 2:20 p.m.