Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Says He's Suing County Commission, Mayor Over Independence of Office

Carlos Lopez-Cantera says he needs to be able to independently do evaluations of homes

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    Miami-Dade Property Appraiser Carlos Lopez-Cantera said he needs to be able to independently do evaluations of homes, and is suing the county commission and mayor to make sure that happens. He said the county attorney moved to void his contract with the lawyer he hired until the commissioners meet in the middle of July. The mayor’s office said it had no comment, and the county attorney said he couldn't talk about the situation either. (Published Thursday, Jul 4, 2013)

    While families are celebrating the Fourth of July and getting ready for fireworks Thursday, fireworks of a different kind are already underway at Miami-Dade County Hall.

    The man who decides what the property taxes are for a big part of South Florida is heading to court.

    "It doesn't make sense to me, the system in place here in county government," said Carlos Lopez-Cantera, the Miami-Dade property appraiser.

    Lopez-Cantera said he has already contracted a Miami attorney to represent him in legal action against the county commission and mayor over letting him do his job independently – something he says the voters made clear on the ballot in 2008. He said he should be able to set the appraisals on residents’ properties without any outside influence.

    "All the voters who voted that day thought they were voting for an independent office, and that's not what they got,” Lopez-Cantera said.

    He said he needs to be able to independently do evaluations of homes, and is suing to make sure that happens.

    His legal action could impact residents’ wallets. Every person that owns a home, condo or rental unit could be affected by a battle pitting Lopez-Cantera versus the county commission and Mayor Carlos Gimenez.

    "It’s a bit of a conflict of interest for the employees of this office to be subject to rules and ordinances that are set by the same bodies that spend the tax dollars and count on the assessments from this office in determining what their budgets are going to be,” Lopez-Cantera said.

    The property appraiser said he uses three things to figure what people’s property taxes should be: what they paid for their home, what homes around them are selling for, and if it’s a rental property, what they collect in rent.

    When voters in 2008 made his office independent, the average tax appraisal on a home was just over $200,000. Today it’s at $157,000, a $44,000 drop.

    NBC 6 spoke with homeowners in a Doral gated community about the appraiser's allegations.

    "The appraiser should do the work, pricing the properties like he is supposed to do as a professional, and we expect him to do that,” said Enrique Chauca, of the Doral Isles homeowners association. “I am very sad to hear there is some political pressure about it."

    Whether it’s a pricey home in Indian Creek, a property in Coral Gables, or further south in Cutler Bay and in Florida City, Lopez-Cantera said, homeowners are getting more information more quickly about their appraisals, and a streamlined process to appeal.

    He said he wants the court to issue a judgment clearly verifying his independence.

    "It’s in the best interest of the voters and that's the only reason we are going through this exercise," the appraiser said.

    Lopez-Cantera said the county attorney moved to void his contract with the lawyer he hired until the commissioners meet in the middle of July.

    The mayor’s office said it had no comment, and the county attorney said he couldn't talk about the situation either.