VALUE ADJUSTMENT BOARD ORGANIZATIONAL MEETING
august 28, 2014
The Lake County Value Adjustment Board (VAB) met in regular session for its Organizational Meeting on Thursday, August 28, 2014, 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. Sean Parks; Commr. Tim Sullivan; Rosanne Brandeburg representing the Lake County School Board; and Richard Riker as Citizen Members. Citizen Member Ralph Smith was absent. Others present were: Alison Yurko, Counsel for the Value Adjustment Board; Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance; Ellie McDonald and Susan Boyajan, Deputy Clerks.
Ms. Alison Yurko introduced herself as the Special Counsel for the Value Adjustment Board. She then asked that Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy Finance introduce the members of the Board and staff.
Ms. Barbara Lehman referred to Tab 1 as the introduction of the Value Adjustment Board for 2014 and the staff who will be assisting. She explained that the VAB consisted of Commissioner Sullivan, Commissioner Parks, Board Member Brandeburg from the School Board; Mr. Riker, as Citizen Member; and Ralph Smith appointee from the School Board who owns a business in Lake County. She commented that the second page of Tab 1 is the staff who will be assisting this Board: Clerk of the Value Adjustment Board is Neil Kelly, Clerk of Courts; noting that members of Mr. Kelly’s staff who assist with VAB are: Ms. Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk for the County Finance Department; Susan Boyajan, Senior Secretary in Board Support; Ellie McDonald and Amy Knoll. She mentioned that the TRIM Notices went out on August 20 and that petitions will be received until September 15.
Appointment of chairman and vice-chairman
Ms. Yurko stated that they would like to have a motion on the floor for Chairman.
On a motion by Commr. Sullivan seconded by Ms. Brandeburg and carried unanimously by a 4-0 vote, the VAB elected Commr. Parks as Chairman.
Ms. Yurko turned the meeting over to Chairman Parks at this time.
APPOINTMENT OF VICE-CHAIRMAN
The Chairman opened the floor for nominations for Vice-Chairman.
On a motion by Ms. Brandeburg seconded by Commr. Sullivan and carried unanimously by a 4-0 vote, the VAB elected Mr. Rick Ricker as Vice-Chairman.
ratification of private board legal counsel
Ms. Barbara Lehman, Chief Deputy Clerk, County Finance, stated that every year the VAB reconvenes and the contract for legal counsel is a one year term at the time. She noted that the contract with Ms. Yurko goes through the end of August. She commented that they could either extend the contract for another year or send out a Request for Proposal (RFP). She remarked that in February 2014 the VAB chose not to send out an RFP. She explained that there were no changes in the contract except to extend the period of time. She recommended extending that contract if it was the desire of the VAB.
On a motion by Commr. Sullivan seconded by Mr. Riker and carried unanimously by a vote of 4-0; the VAB extended the contract of Ms. Alison Yurko to continue as attorney for the VAB for another year.
ratification of Special Magistrates
Ms. Lehman explained that in prior years the VAB issued request for proposals for the Attorney Special Magistrate to hear questions of exemptions and Ms. Denise Lyn has held that position for the last several years. She noted that they have updated Ms. Lynn’s contract and if approved, the term would be from August 2014 through September 30, 2015. She commented that Ms. Lynn is in the election for Judgeship in Sumter County and is in the Primary. She explained that depending on the outcome in November it may be necessary to send out an RFP to hire another attorney.
Commr. Parks stated that at this time they were to approve the contract for Ms. Lynn.
On motion of Ms. Brandeburg seconded by Commr. Sullivan and carried unanimously by a vote of 4-0, the contract of Ms. Lynn was extended for another year.
Ms. Lehman explained that the next contracts were for two Special Magistrates who hear the cases and review the evidence submitted by the Property Appraiser and the Petitioners. She commented that those two contracts also need to be extended for another year. She noted that the VAB sent out an RFP several years ago for those contracts and that could be done at this point if the Board so desired. However, she commented that the each Special Magistrate has been contacted and consented to extending their contracts. She stated that Ms. Edmundson’s contract would be extended with a slight increase in her fee. She commented that Mr. MacDermott proposed, and received, $125 per hour for his fee last year. She explained that Ms. Edmundson was paid a fee of $100 last year and asked that her fee be equal to that of the other Special Magistrate as they do the same amount of work and they bill VAB for the time spent reviewing the cases. She related that last year, which was the first year of the contract, two one-year extensions were contained in each of those contracts. She recommended that the VAB extend each contract for the first-year extension for all three of the Special Magistrates.
Ms. Brandeburg discussed with Ms. Lehman the amount of time the Special Magistrates spend on hearings and recommendations.
Ms. Lehman explained that they hear all the VAB cases noting that last year there were approximately sixty cases presented to the Special Magistrates. She noted that they bill the VAB by hour with a summary of their billing by cases heard. She commented that the hearings are held in the Board of County Commissioner’s Chambers and that the Property Appraiser’s representatives and the Petitioners can attend. She mentioned that the entire hearing will be recorded although no minutes will be prepared.
On a motion by Ms. Brandeburg seconded by Commr. Sullivan and carried unanimously by a vote of 4-0, the VAB approved the extension of the contracts for Ms. Kathryn Edmundson and Mr. Paul MacDermott to serve as Special Magistrates.
review of general information regarding property tax system
Ms. Yurko pointed out that the VAB members were provided a booklet compiled by the Clerk’s Office which addresses all of the required information and provides reference to the corresponding websites, and noted that the Florida Administrative Code 12D-9 was the definitive source of all things relating to the VAB. She commented that they work out of Chapters 194, 193, and 196 of the Florida Statutes. She explained that the VAB was a statutorily created body comprised of two County Commissioners, one member of the School Board and two citizen members. She noted that the attorney must be an independent person who does not work for a taxing authority. She explained that her role as legal counsel was to give advice as to the Rules and the legality of the process. She commented that she does not represent the Property Appraiser or the Petitioner, but basically represents the VAB process to make sure it is fair. She explained that the guts of this process really occur with the Special Magistrate hearings. She commented that the Special Magistrate hears the evidence from both the Property Appraiser and the petitioner. She commented that for an evidence exchange with the Property Appraiser, the petitioners were required to produce their evidence 15 days prior to the hearing and in turn, the Property Appraiser provides their evidence seven days later. She elaborated that the VAB members were the keepers of due process to insure everything flows smoothly and everyone does their job. She commented that the VAB review is somewhat limited to make sure there are no glaring errors in the process since Special Magistrate proceedings are the primary means for hearing and weighing competent and substantial evidence and testimony. She mentioned that there are two Resolutions which need to be reviewed by the Board. She noted that these Resolutions are logistical items that are adopted to make the process function smoothly. She explained that the Taxpayer’s Bill of Rights is found in 12D-9.011 of the Florida Administrative Code which contains very specific rules about the rights the Taxpayer has for notification; right to have an informal conference with the Property Appraiser, etc. She noted that many settlements are made during that informal conference. She stated that the Rules call for the ability to have the Board appoint a designee to make a determination as to whether there is good cause for late filings. She suggested a motion be made to designate a Special Magistrate to make determinations on late filings.
Commr. Parks remarked that it was his understanding that the Board is to focus on glaring errors in the process, not necessarily disputing something the Property Appraiser finds as a fact. He stated that he understands that the Board makes sure that the citizens have their due process.
Ms. Yurko replied that was correct. She remarked that the Board is bound by the Sunshine Law and to the extent that someone wants to approach a Board member and talk about their case, it would be an ex parte communication. She stated the Board member would then ask them to put it in writing, the Clerk will distribute it to her and the Property Appraiser and any other affected party. She remarked that under the Rules the attorney is to respond to their questions. She explained that by using this process any problems or errors can be caught ahead of time.
On a motion by Commr. Sullivan seconded by Mr. Ricker and carried unanimously by a vote of 4-0; the VAB designated the Attorney Special Magistrate to decide the good-cause determination for late notice filings.
Resolution regarding adoption of a filing fee
Ms. Lehman explained that Resolution 2014-1 was a Resolution required by the Florida Administrative Code to establish a filing fee for the maximum amount which is allowed by Statute of $15 for each petition and a $5 fee for each additional parcel filed for a joint petition. She indicated that the single filing fee, not to exceed $15 for the petition, should be included in Section 1 of Resolution 2014-1, page 2, in the second sentence. She remarked that the funds generated from this fee would go back to the County to offset the costs of the Special Magistrates, commenting that part of that cost is borne by the School Board. She requested approval to continue to charge the $15 filing fee per petition.
On a motion by Ms. Brandeburg, seconded by Commr. Sullivan and carried unanimously by a 4-0 vote, the VAB approved Resolution 2014-1 (as amended) adopting a $15 filing fee for individual petitions and a $5 fee for each additional parcel filed for a joint petition. The Resolution was amended to include language in Section 1, page 2, second sentence as follows: “Only a single filing fee, not to exceed $15, shall be charged . . ....”
Resolution to adopt local administrative procedures
Ms. Lehman explained that Resolution 2014-2 was to adopt local administrative procedures for areas that were not specified by Statute in order to identify how they would handle certain things such as electronic filing, incomplete petitions, attendance of petitioners, telephonic hearings, and handling of evidence. She mentioned that these procedures would be on the VAB website, and she recommended that the Board approve this Resolution.
On a motion by Commr. Sullivan, seconded by Mr. Riker and carried unanimously by a 4-0 vote, the VAB approved Resolution 2014-2 regarding local administrative procedures for the VAB.
Announcement of tentative 2014 VAB schedule
Ms. Lehman reviewed the tentative schedule for the 2014 VAB year. She noted that the TRIM Notices were mailed out on August 20, which started the period for filing petitions, and she clarified that this meant the filing deadline for petitions would now be Monday, September 15, 2014. She stated that after that date the number of petitions for this year will be known. She related that they have already started scheduling hearings for October and November before the Special Magistrate for the exemptions and classifications and would continue with that process, and they will try to wrap up the meetings of the VAB by December if possible, although the process frequently went into January. She explained that they would likely have a meeting in February and at that time all petitions and Special Recommendations of the Special Magistrate will be provided to the Board in order for them to make their recommendations. She remarked that the only reason the Board would meet before that time would be to send out an RFP if a new Attorney Special Magistrate was needed.
On a motion by Mr. Riker seconded by Ms. Brandeburg and carried unanimously by a 4-0 vote, the VAB approved the tentative 2014 VAB Schedule.
On a motion by Mr. Riker, seconded by Commr. Sullivan and carried unanimously by a 4-0 vote, the VAB approved the Minutes of the VAB Regular Meeting held February 8, 2014, as presented.
Discussion regarding Chapter 12D-9.031, F.A.C.
Ms. Yurko mentioned that she had previously discussed the Consideration and Adoption of Recommended Decisions of Special Magistrates by Value Adjustment Boards in Administrative Reviews. She stated that this Section of the Florida Administrative Code references Sections 194.301, 194.034 and 194.035 of the Florida Statues as being the operative provisions checked by the VAB. She explained that these sections discuss the issue of experience of the Special Magistrate and the validity of the order and under 194.301 they actually review the appraisal methodology.
invoices for Special Magistrates
Ms. Lehman explained that during the year invoices will be received from the Special Magistrates and for legal counsel for their services. She stated that the invoices will be reviewed for reasonableness and go ahead and pay them. She commented that the invoices will be brought back to the VAB at the next meeting for retroactive approval. She noted that if the invoices were not handled in that manner they would not be able to pay everyone in a timely manner. She explained that by paying the invoices at the time they were received would prevent holding a very short intermittent meeting.
Commr. Parks questioned the number of petitions filed to date.
Ms. Lehman responded that there have been twelve petitions filed at this point. She reported that last year there approximately 500 petitions were filed by the deadline and that about three-quarters of those were withdrawn or settled. She stated that only sixty of the five hundred petitions filed went to the Special Magistrate.
On a motion by Ms. Brandeburg seconded by Mr. Riker and carried unanimously the meeting was adjourned at 2:33 p.m.
There being no further business to be brought to the attention of the VAB, the meeting was adjourned at 2:18 p.m.
SEAN PARKS, CHAIRMAN
NEIL KELLY, CLERK