a regular meeting of the VALUE ADJUSTMENT BOARD
January 11, 2013
The Lake County Value Adjustment Board (VAB) met in regular session to review the special magistrates’ recommendations on Friday, January 11, 2013, at 2:00 p.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. Sean Parks; Debbie Stivender representing the Lake County School Board; Will Walker as a Citizen Member; and Ralph Smith as a Citizen Member. Others present were: Alison Yurko, Counsel for the Value Adjustment Board; Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance; Michael Prestridge, Chief Deputy, Property Appraiser’s Office; and Courtney Vincent, Deputy Clerk.
call to order
The Chairman called the meeting to order.
On a motion by Ms. Stivender, seconded by Mr. Smith and carried unanimously by those present by a 4-0 vote, the VAB approved the minutes of the VAB Organizational Meeting held August 21, 2012.
Commr. Parks was absent for the vote.
Authority of the Value Adjustment Board
Commr. Conner asked Ms. Yurko to explain the authority and limitations of the Board.
Ms. Yurko stated that she and each of the three special magistrates hired by the VAB were independent third parties and not employees of the County. She then explained that, per Ch. 12D-9.031, F.A.C., the VAB was required to adopt the recommendations of the special magistrates provided that the recommendations complied with the necessary Florida Statutes. She noted that petitioners had the right to file a claim in Circuit Court should they wish to contest the final decision of the VAB. She mentioned that the rare times when the VAB had voted to have a case readdressed was when it had been determined that either the recommendation was not in compliance or due process had not been followed during the proceedings. She stated that it was her role to advise the VAB on legal matters as well as to respond to any written correspondence received, three of which had been received regarding recommendations submitted for approval today.
Consideration of special magistrate recommendations
Commr. Conner announced that he had received three public speaker cards from Mr. Albert Weaver, Petition 2012-7; Mr. Robert Karles, Petition 2012-16; and Ms. Gladys Cortes, Petition 2012-21. He explained that he would like these petitions moved from the regular agenda and placed on the addendum so they could be addressed individually.
On a motion by Mr. Smith, seconded by Commr. Parks and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB approved removing the special magistrate recommendations for Petitions 2012-7, 2012-16 and 2012-21 from the regular agenda and moving them to the Agenda Addendum.
Ms. Yurko explained that the recommendations filed under the green tab of the agenda backup were those petitions that the special magistrates recommended be granted.
On a motion by Ms. Stivender, seconded by Commr. Parks and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB accepted the recommendations of the special magistrates to grant the petitions listed under the green tab.
Ms. Yurko explained that the recommendations filed under the yellow tab of the agenda backup were those petitions that the special magistrates recommended be granted in part.
On a motion by Mr. Smith, seconded by Commr. Parks and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB accepted the recommendations of the special magistrates to grant in part the recommendations listed under the yellow tab.
Ms. Yurko explained that the recommendations filed under the red tab of the agenda backup were those petitions that the special magistrates recommended be denied.
Mr. Smith asked to discuss the recommendation for Petitions 2012-4 and 2012-5 for Mr. Gary Hammond. He explained that the Findings of Fact stated Mr. Hammond was only using only about 40 percent of the land to grow Christmas trees and that it did not reach the level of best management practices to allow for the requested classification. He asked what that level was that would have allowed Mr. Hammond to gain the classification.
Mr. Peter Peebles, Lake County Property Appraiser’s Office (PAO), replied that the standard for Christmas trees, which was considered a nursery use, was determined by nursery standards and not the PAO. He explained that Mr. Hammond did not have the proper amount of trees for the use he was claiming and the successful trees on Mr. Hammond’s property were very sparse across the property.
Mr. Smith commented that the Findings of Fact reported it as 40 percent and asked what number of trees would be needed for it to be 100 percent.
Mr. Peebles clarified that it was 40 percent of what Mr. Hammond had planted, not 40 percent of the property.
Mr. Smith asked if Mr. Hammond would have qualified if 70 or 80 percent of the trees had survived.
Mr. Peebles replied that he would not have qualified because the Christmas trees had been planted after the first of the year, and Mr. Hammond did not file for Christmas trees.
Commr. Parks asked if Mr. Hammond had to meet a certain criteria regarding the number of trees to qualify for the classification.
Mr. Peebles replied that that was correct, that Mr. Hammond was aware of this, and that the petitioner had been agreeable to the outcome of the hearing. He noted that Mr. Hammond applied for different classifications each year, and he would not be planting Christmas trees next year.
On a motion by Ms. Stivender, seconded by Mr. Walker and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB accepted the recommendations of the special magistrates to deny the recommendations listed under the red tab, excluding the recommendations for Petitions 2012-7, 2012-16, and 2012-21 which would be heard under the Addendum.
Addendum I – Petition 2012-24 (Sally Rodgers)
Ms. Yurko stated that Ms. Sally Rodgers had submitted a written statement contesting the recommendation based on discrimination. She explained that after reviewing the entire case file, she recommended the Board adopt the special magistrate’s recommendation.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Mr. Smith and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB adopted the recommendation for Petition 2012-24 for Ms. Sally Rodgers.
Addendum II – Petition 2012-271 (Florida Cable, inc.)
Ms. Yurko stated that the written statement contesting the recommendation for Petition 2012-271 for Florida Cable, Inc. had come from the PAO. She opined that the objection had been submitted in order to preserve the POA’s right to bring the case to Circuit Court. She explained that the statement questioned the credibility of the petitioner’s evidence and suggested that the special magistrate may have been confused or misunderstood the nature of the abandoned cable that the case dealt with. She remarked that this type of case would be appropriate for Circuit Court because that would be the type of venue needed to further explore the minute details of the case.
Mr. Robert Ross, Senior Supervisor for Tangible Personal Property, Lake County PAO, replied that he did not believe that valuing an operating cable television system at $0 was a mistake. He stated that his office had requested several times for the taxpayer to provide them with evidence, and the taxpayer failed to provide any documentation. He noted that the taxpayer had two petitions before the special magistrate, with the other case being for cable in a manufactured home community that they had vacated, and opined that the special magistrate might have confused the two cases. He remarked that the case should have been remanded back to the PAO for further review and to obtain additional information from the taxpayer.
Ms. Yurko reminded the Board that it was their policy not to rehear cases and reiterated that this case would be appropriate to bring to Circuit Court.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Mr. Smith and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB adopted the recommendation for Petition 2012-271 for Florida Cable, Inc.
Addendum III – Petition 2012-66 (James Purvis)
Commr. Conner announced that he potentially had a conflict of interest on this case, because he had a business relationship with the petitioner, so he would abstain from voting and file a Memorandum of Voting Conflict with the Clerk.
Ms. Yurko explained that the written statement contesting the special magistrate’s recommendation for petition 2012-666 from Mr. James Purvis had been received that day. She mentioned that the statement outlined how Mr. Purvis had applied for homestead in Volusia County and then changed his mind and wished to retain his homestead in Lake County. She explained that while there was a good faith change of heart, the laws required that the person must live in their home on the first of the year to qualify for homestead exemption, and the petitioner had filed a form in Volusia County stating that he would be occupying the home in Volusia County starting December 30, 2011. She specified that it was after the first of the year when Mr. Purvis changed his mind regarding his property. She recommended that the Board adopt the recommendation of the special magistrate and noted that the petitioner could reapply for homestead exemption for the 2013 tax year.
Commr. Conner stated that Mr. Purvis did live in a house in Lake County but that he precluded his homestead by the form he signed. He added that Mr. Purvis should be eligible to receive the homestead exemption for the 2013 tax year.
Ms. Stivender commiserated with the petitioner, explaining that she had moved and forgotten to go to the Property Appraiser’s Office and ended up having to pay the additional amount in property taxes for two years.
On a motion by Ms. Stivender, seconded by Commr. Parks and carried by a 4-0 vote, the VAB adopted the recommendation for Petition 2012-66 for Mr. James Purvis.
Commr. Conner abstained from voting.
Addendum IV – 2012-7 (Albert Weaver)
Commr. Conner stated that he had received a public speaker card from Mr. Albert Weaver regarding petition 2012-7. He asked Mr. Weaver to approach the Board.
Mr. Weaver stated that when he received the Notice of Hearing, it had indicated that he needed to present two packets of evidence to the VAB for the hearing that were identical to what he had submitted to the PAO. He explained that he had brought those two packets of evidence and his attorney had also prepared evidence for the hearing. He then stated that at the hearing Ms. Denise Lyn, Attorney Special Magistrate, twice declined accepting copies of the evidence he had prepared. He asked why he was asked to prepare the two copies of evidence if Ms. Lyn would not look at it or take it. He then mentioned that the other reason he was addressing the Board was because the recommendation contained misinformation. He remarked that most of the evidence provided by the PAO was inaccurate and some of it was hearsay. He recounted the evidence that the PAO representative had presented at the hearing and challenged its validity. He noted that the recommendation stated that he lived with his girlfriend at 4726 St. Andrews Arc, but that was his physical address, and his girlfriend’s address was 4736 St. Andrews Arc. He also noted that when an investigator from the PAO came to his property and spoke to his neighbor, his neighbor had indicated to the investigator that his van was in front of his girlfriend’s property while he was visiting, and the investigator used that to determine that he was living with his girlfriend and that not living in his home. He stated that he had asked the PAO what the factors were to qualify for homestead exemption and he was told that he needed to look at Florida Statute 196.015 which gave a list of determining qualifications. He declared that he had nine out of ten of the items on the list. He opined that what had been presented to the VAB in the recommendation was inaccurate.
Ms. Yurko stated that the petitioner had reargued his case although this was not a rehearing, and she recommended that the Board adopt the special magistrate’s recommendation for Petition 2012-7.
Commr. Conner asked if the Board could send the case back to the special magistrate.
Ms. Yurko replied that there were some complications with that, noting that if the Board sent the case back to the special magistrate, they would not be able to certify the tax roll today. She added that the Board would risk setting precedence.
Mr. Michael Prestridge, Chief Deputy, Lake County PAO, stated that his office had been unaware that this case would be discussed today, and as a result neither the Supervisor of Exemptions that heard the case nor the investigator for the case were present. He opined that the special magistrate’s recommendation was appropriate.
Commr. Conner stated that Mr. Weaver was not receiving homestead exemption anywhere else, and he opined that Mr. Weaver had a compelling case. He explained that the problem was that even if the Board agreed with Mr. Weaver, if they acted in a way that contradicted the law, the Board could get in trouble.
Mr. Smith agreed that Mr. Weaver had a compelling argument. He stated that the Board had remanded cases back to the special magistrate in the past, so he did not believe it would set precedence. He added that he was not as concerned with certifying the tax roll quickly as he was with doing it correctly and justly.
Commr. Conner asked what the ramifications would be if the Board sent the case back to the special magistrate.
Ms. Yurko replied that the special magistrate would be hearing the same evidence and may or may not make the same determination.
Mr. Walker remarked that Mr. Weaver was making a strong accusation when he said that the special magistrate did not accept his evidence or have it when she reviewed the case. He commented that it was the job of the VAB to hire the special magistrates, and they needed some assurance that the job was being done correctly. He agreed with Mr. Smith that the VAB was not there to be expedient regarding certification of the tax roll; they were there to ensure fairness for all taxpayers and citizens of the County.
Commr. Conner asked Mr. Prestridge what the timetable was for tax roll certification.
Mr. Prestridge replied that he was unaware whether there was a statutory timetable set for this calendar year, but there were counties where the certification process extended into the next calendar year. He stated that there was no compelling reason why the Board would have to certify the tax roll today.
Ms. Yurko specified that there were three special magistrates, with Attorney Special Magistrate Ms. Denise Lyn being the one who heard Mr. Weaver’s petition. She explained that, in regards to Mr. Weaver’s statement regarding his evidence, there were very strict rules regarding evidence submission, and Ms. Lyn was very well versed in those rules. She postulated that the evidence Mr. Weaver was referring to might not have been timely presented.
Commr. Parks commented that the special magistrates handled many cases, and sometimes a mistake might be made, so out of an abundance of caution regarding the hearing proceedings, they should have the case reheard.
Ms. Yurko advised the Board against allowing the rehearing.
Mr. Peebles commented that the statement Mr. Weaver had just given was the same as what he would have stated at the hearing before the special magistrate, and he had had his chance to present his case during the hearing.
Mr. Weaver stated that the special magistrate had reviewed what the PAO had given her, and she had asked his attorney why she had black and white as well as color pictures in the evidence. He then explained that he had prepared his packet of evidence and offered it to her but she declined.
On a motion by Commr. Parks, seconded by Ms. Stivender and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB determined that Petition 2012-7 for Mr. Albert Weaver should be sent back to the special magistrate to be reheard in a timely manner.
Addendum V – 2012-16 (Karles)
Commr. Conner stated that he had received a public speaker card from Mr. Robert Karles regarding petition 2012-16. He asked Mr. Karles to approach the Board.
Mr. Karles stated that the special magistrate had decided that he and his wife had abandoned their home and so denied their petition for homestead exemption. He explained that he had all of his bank statements and his utility statements, but he did not submit them to the special magistrate during the hearing because he had thought that signing the petition form, which included a statement regarding the penalties of perjury, would have been sufficient to validate his verbal testimony. He stated that he had never been late on his house payment or utility bills, and he noted that while the bills did not state that he was in the property on January first, he and his wife were there the day before and the day after that. He remarked that they had put gas in the car in Tavares and had seen a movie in Leesburg. He quoted Mr. Robert Butterworth, former Attorney General for the State of Florida, “Florida Courts have determined that actual physical presence on the property is not a constitutional or statutory requirement for the entitlement to the exemption.” He explained that the special magistrate determined that the preponderance of evidence indicated that he and his wife were not living in the home as required on the first of January. He stated that he and his wife had been offered employment in South Carolina, they had accepted those jobs, of which his was temporary, and when his job ended they came directly back to their Lake County residence. He added that he and his wife returned to their home at least once per month and during the holidays, and he had not found any legal grounds for how often they were required to return to their home to ensure permanent residency. He noted that they did not turn off any utilities, phone, internet, water or trash services; they only cancelled their cable television service. He also noted that they had hired a landscaper.
Commr. Conner asked how long Mr. Karles was in South Carolina.
Mr. Karles replied that he was there for seven months from October 2011 through May 2012, and he was still making payments on the house at that time. He noted that Mr. Jim Kimpel, Exemptions Investigator for Homestead with the Lake County PAO, had stated that he had visited his home on March 23, 2012 and did not find anyone at home. He added that his neighbor had told him that he had witnessed a State vehicle pull up and saw someone knock on his door, look through the windows and then have a discussion with a neighbor, but that Mr. Kimpel denied speaking with his neighbor.
Ms. Yurko stated that according to the Findings of Fact on the recommendation, the petitioner had listed the South Carolina address as his permanent residence on his income tax return, and he had claimed moving expenses. She also mentioned that the recommendation indicated that the petitioner lived and worked in South Carolina on January 1, 2012. She recommended the Board adopt the special magistrate’s recommendation.
Mr. Smith commented that Mr. Karles had stated that he and his wife were in their house on January first and that they had gone to the movies. He recommended sending the case back to the special magistrate.
Commr. Conner empathized with the petitioner but stated that he did not agree with remanding this case because the special magistrate had not determined that Mr. Karles was residing in his home as of January first, and based on the physical evidence of the case, he did not think that remanding the case would help the petitioner.
Mr. Smith moved to either grant relief or remand the petition back to the special magistrate.
Commr. Parks seconded the motion.
The motion failed on a vote of 2-3 with Mr. Smith and Ms. Stivender voting for the motion and Commr. Parks, Commr. Conner, and Mr. Walker voting against the motion.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Commr. Parks and carried by a 3-2 vote, the VAB adopted the recommendation for Petition 2012-16 for Mr. Robert Karles.
Ms. Stivender and Mr. Smith voted, “No.”
Addendum VI – 2012-21 (Cortes)
Commr. Conner stated that he had received a public speaker card from Ms. Gladys Cortes regarding petition 2012-21. He asked Ms. Cortes to approach the Board.
Ms. Cortes stated that Ms. Lyn had also been her special magistrate. She then explained that the property in question was her first and only home, and she had been denied her homestead exemption. She mentioned that she had called the PAO to ask what she needed to bring with her to court and had been told she did not need to bring anything. She noted that she brought evidence with her anyway, including her deed and her utility bills. She remarked that she had filed her homestead exemption paperwork on time at Minneola City Hall so they could certify the paperwork and have it processed, but apparently it had not been processed. She stated that she brought copies of receipts and utility bills with her from when she had moved in and asked the Board for guidance on what she needed to do to prove her home was her permanent residence.
Mr. Kimpel explained that the reason Ms. Cortes’ exemption had been denied was because the additional paperwork that was required to complete the application had not been submitted, so they did not receive the necessary documentation to approve the application. He stated that the PAO agreed with the recommendation of the special magistrate because the petitioner failed to prove extenuating circumstances for why the additional paperwork was not filed.
Ms. Yurko stated that the special magistrate did find that the petitioner was eligible for exemption but had to deny the petition because there were no extenuating circumstances for the late filing.
On a motion by Ms. Stivender, seconded by Mr. Walker and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB adopted the recommendation for Petition 2012-21 for Ms. Gladys Cortes.
Special magistrate and legal counsel vendor invoices
Ms. Lehman explained that the invoices were received throughout the year and were reviewed for accuracy, paid, and then put before the VAB for approval retroactively. She requested approval of the vendor invoices.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Mr. Smith and carried unanimously by a 5-0 vote, the VAB retroactively approved the payment of submitted special magistrate and legal counsel vendor invoices.
Recertification of the tax roll
Commr. Conner stated that the Board would not vote on recertifying the tax roll, because Petition 2012-7 was being sent back to the special magistrate for reviewed. He asked what the timeline was for when the Board would be meeting again.
Ms. Yurko replied that she would need to get assistance from the Clerk and the Property Appraiser’s Office on that issue.
Commr. Conner asked that Mr. Weaver be advised of when the rehearing was scheduled for and when the next VAB meeting would be. He then addressed Mr. Weaver, informing him that the VAB could not change the recommendation, so this was his one chance, but the decision still rested with the special magistrate.
Ms. Yurko commented that the PAO would have the authority to enter into some sort of a settlement negotiation to expedite matters regarding Petition 2012-7, should it be desired.
Mr. Lloyd Rinderer, petitioner to the VAB, addressed the VAB to ask what would happen to those taxpayers who had their petitions granted and would see a reduction in appraised value since the VAB had not recertified the tax roll at this meeting. He noted that he had already paid his property tax based on the full amount, and his petition had been among those granted at this meeting.
Mr. Prestridge replied that all of the Certificates of Correction were prepared by the PAO in response to the recommendations of the special magistrate and that they turned those over to the Tax Collector’s Office after the VAB has had its final meeting and the tax roll has been recertified. He stated that any refunds would be extended until the process was complete, so those with a reduction in property values who had paid their taxes and were now due a refund would not receive the refund until the tax roll was recertified.
Commr. Conner asked Ms. Yurko if the Board would have to meet to recertify the tax roll even if the Property Appraiser’s Office and Mr. Weaver came to a settlement.
Ms. Yurko replied that that was correct.
Commr. Conner asked that all parties involved in the rehearing of Petition 2012-7 expedite the process so a final decision on the petition could be made and the tax roll could be recertified as soon as possible.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the VAB, the meeting was adjourned at 2:57 p.m.
JIMMY CONNER, CHAIRMAN
NEIL KELLY, CLERK