A regular meeting of the VALUE ADJUSTMENT BOARD
February 8, 2013
The Lake County Value Adjustment Board (VAB) met in regular session to review the recommendation of the special magistrate for a rehearing on Friday, February 8, 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. Parks, Vice Chairman; Debbie Stivender representing the Lake County School Board; and Will Walker as a Citizen Member. Board members not present were: Ralph Smith, Citizen Member. Others present were: Alison Yurko, Counsel for the Value Adjustment Board; Michael Prestridge, Chief Deputy, Property Appraiser’s Office; Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance; and Courtney Vincent, Deputy Clerk.
call to order
The Chairman called the meeting to order. He stated that a quorum was present and noted that Commr. Parks would be arriving a few minutes late.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Ms. Stivender and carried unanimously by those present by a 3-0 vote, the VAB approved the minutes of the VAB Regular Meeting held January 11, 2013.
Commr. Parks was absent for the vote.
Consideration of special magistrate recommendation for vab petition 2012-7 for Mr. Albert WEaver
Ms. Yurko stated that she had attended the rehearing for Mr. Weaver’s petition and noted that both Mr. Weaver and representatives from the Property Appraiser’s Office were present for the hearing. She reported that all evidence was accepted at the hearing and Attorney Special Magistrate Denise Lyn, who presided over the hearing, reviewed every piece of evidence on the record. She mentioned that there had been some discussion regarding the jurisdiction and she had explained that Chapter 12D-9.031(5)(b), F.A.C., allowed the Board to send a recommendation to the special magistrate for a full review when the Board determined that the legal requirements of the statute had not been met. She clarified that this was not a case of remanding a petition, because remands did not apply to exemption hearings. She added that she had stated for the record during the hearing that there was an error in the recommendation because the address listed in the finding of facts as the petitioner’s address was incorrect, causing a failure to comply with the statute, and Special Magistrate Lyn had agreed with that determination. She reported that Special Magistrate Lyn did not change her recommendation after the conclusion of the rehearing, though the address issue was corrected. She remarked that she had mentioned during the hearing that there was substantial documentary evidence suggesting Mr. Weaver had met the criteria for the exemption under the statute, but Special Magistrate Lyn had informed her that the evidence also included a court order effective January 1, 2012 mandating that Mr. Weaver sell his home as the product of a divorce case. She explained that the statute specifically stated that there must be intent to make the property the permanent residence in order to qualify for the homestead exemption, and it was Special Magistrate Lyn’s determination that a person could not intend for a home to be the permanent residence when there was a court order to sell the property. She stated that Special Magistrate Lyn did not change her recommendation after the conclusion of the rehearing, though the address issue was corrected, and it was the legal obligation of the Board to adopt the recommendation as corrected.
Commr. Conner asked if the Board had the legal authority to overturn the recommendation of the special magistrate.
Ms. Yurko replied that the Board only possessed the ability to overturn the recommendation if it failed to comply with Florida Statutes.
Commr. Conner asked if Mr. Weaver’s court order had been discussed at the last Board meeting.
Ms. Yurko replied that the court order had not been previously discussed.
Commr. Conner stated that if the court order was the basis for the denial, then the Board did not have the legal authority to change the recommendation. He then addressed Mr. Weaver, who was present in the audience, stating that the Board would not be rehearing the case today, but he would allow Mr. Weaver the opportunity to address the Board.
Commr. Parks arrived at 2:06 p.m.
Mr. Weaver stated that the court order that was referenced had been in effect since October of 2011 and did not say that he had to sell the house and vacate the property; it said that he and his ex-wife agreed to sell the house because it was the condition his ex-wife had wanted in the divorce agreement. He mentioned that when his ex-wife took him back to court two years ago, the judge said the house would be up for sale for a year, and if the house could not be sold by then, either one of them would have the right to petition the court to sell the property on the courthouse steps. He stressed that the order did not mandate that the house be sold, and it did not say that it had to be sold in 2012. He then stated that after two hearings before the special magistrate, part of his evidence had been completely eliminated from the recommendation. He mentioned that the Property Appraiser’s Office had directed him to Florida Statute 196.015 after he had asked what the conditions were for Homestead Exemption, and while the Statute clearly stated that the Property Appraiser had the final decision on granting the exemption, it also provided a guideline of ten items to consider when making the determination. He stated that he met nine of the ten items listed and remarked that the special magistrate only referred to three of the nine criteria in her recommendation. He added that the special magistrate also referenced an anonymous phone call which he opined was hearsay evidence because a discussion he had had with his neighbor had been classified as such by the special magistrate, but that Mr. Jim Kimpel, an appraiser from the Property Appraiser’s Office, had come to his home and talked with the same neighbor, which the special magistrate had considered as valid evidence. He noted that Mr. Kimpel had walked around the house and had looked in the windows, but had never been inside the house before determining that the house was vacant. He mentioned that there was a Statute that addressed what the appraisers had to do and the type of report to file with the petitioner by the first of July, and he stated that the only report he had received was a coded teletype form that he could not decipher. He reported that the Property Appraiser’s Office produced at the second hearing a copy of the report that was easier to read and which had not been presented to him. He opined that the special magistrate “cherry picked” the evidence to make him look guilty and ignored the evidence to the contrary.
Commr. Conner reported that he had heard from multiple sources that the Lake County Property Appraiser’s Office had been very cooperative throughout this process. He thanked Mr. Carey Baker, the County Property Appraiser; Mr. Prestridge, and Mr. Peebles for their work, and he mentioned that they had always received good reports from the Property Appraiser’s Office. He stated that the Board had been sympathetic towards Mr. Weaver, who he considered to be a good man, and the Board had taken extra effort at the last meeting to allow for the rehearing. He reiterated that Mr. Weaver could not be considered a permanent resident of the property because of the court order stating that there was an agreement to sell the house, and the Board did not have the legal authority to overturn the special magistrate’s recommendation.
Mr. Walker commented that it was his understanding that Mr. Weaver had the ability to take this matter to Circuit Court, should he decide to pursue it further.
Ms. Yurko stated that that was correct. She then mentioned that the listing agreement under the court order had expired, so Mr. Weaver should have been eligible again for homestead exemption as of the first of January 2013. She noted that Mr. Weaver was already working with the Property Appraiser’s Office on obtaining the exemption for 2013.
Mr. Walker opined that when the Board ordered for a case to be reheard, it was not required that the original special magistrate hear the case again. He suggested that in the future any cases approved for a rehearing should be heard by a different special magistrate than the one who originally heard the petition.
Commr. Conner asked if there was a contract for a second special magistrate.
Ms. Lehman replied that there was one attorney special magistrate under contract to hear exemption and classification petitions, and another special magistrate would have to be hired to hear those cases selected for rehearing.
Commr. Conner stated that the Board would look into that next year.
On a motion by Mr. Walker, seconded by Commr. Parks and carried unanimously by those present by a 4-0 vote, the VAB approved to uphold the recommendation of Special Magistrate Denise Lyn to deny VAB petition 2012-7 for Mr. Albert Weaver.
Recertification of the tax roll
On a motion by Ms. Stivender, seconded by Mr. Walker and carried unanimously by those present by a 4-0 vote, the VAB approved the recertification of the 2012 Tax Roll.
Commr. Conner thanked the Property Appraiser’s Office, Ms. Lehman and the Clerk’s Office, Ms. Yurko, and the Board members for their work.
Ms. Stivender asked that Mr. Walker’s suggestion regarding the alternate special magistrate be addressed next time, because she had been concerned that the petition had been reheard by the same special magistrate and did not think that was appropriate.
The Chairman stated that the Board was in agreement to use an alternative special magistrate on cases that were reheard.
Ms. Yurko stated that she had never seen anything in the rules that dictated that an alternative special magistrate could not be used.
Commr. Conner asked if Ms. Yurko could research that issue and distribute something in writing to the Board and the Property Appraiser’s Office with the official determination on the matter. He asked if the Property Appraiser’s Office had any objection to that request.
Mr. Prestridge replied that his office had no problem with that request.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the VAB, the meeting was adjourned at 2:19 p.m.
JIMMY CONNER, CHAIRMAN
NEIL KELLY, CLERK