Time Running Out to Appeal Tax Bills

As the Sept. 18 deadline to appeal 2015 property tax assessments approaches, property owners in Miami-Dade County may want to know they dramatically outperform the rest of the state in one statistic: they are by far the most successful in winning reductions in their tax bills.

Between 2003 and 2012, 45 percent of Miami-Dade property tax appeals have resulted in reductions, compared to between 4 and 13 percent in comparable Florida counties, according to an audit by Miami-Dade Public Schools.

That disparity comes as the body responsible for hearing those appeals – the Value Adjustment Board – has been inundated with about 500,000 requests for reductions over the last five years.

That has led to delays in the final certification the county’s tax rolls, leaving the schools unable to know exactly how much money it will have to spend.

“We know that our students are losing resources because of this -- less programs,” said Karla Hernandez Mats, a teacher and officer of the teachers’ union, United Teachers of Dade. She and the union are suing the Board of County Commissioners and Mayor Carlos Gimenez, claiming the county’s failure to adequately fund the VAB process has led to the delays and cost the schools valuable resources.

County property appraiser Pedro Garcia said the backlog’s roots lie in the crash of the real estate market, which prompted a flood of appeals in 2009 from property owners who felt their valuations were too high.

"The biggest problem is how you can handle 140,000 appeals? There was no way it can be done," said Garcia.

But, he noted, more staff has been assigned to the process and the backlog is shrinking.

Among those properties that have benefitted from appeals: a Bayfront parcel in Miami Beach purchased for $10.6 million in 2010 by a trust connected to Miami Heat superstar Dwyane Wade. Wade has received $110,000 in refunds for two tax years, after the VAB determined the property’s market value was around $7 million, according to county finance records.

But owners of more modest properties are benefitting, too.

Dr. William Silver was surprised to see how much his Coral Gables condominium neighbors were paying in property taxes compared to him.

"I felt terrible. I felt like I had been cheated really," he said. "Somebody else was paying $4,000 or $5,000 less than I was for almost the same place--actually for an even bigger place."

So he appealed to the VAB, where taxpayers or their representatives plead their case to special magistrates.

They argue assessments should be lowered for a variety of reasons, such as comparable sales or neighborhood nuisances like foul odors or poor street drainage.

"We try to be as fair as possible to both sides because one thing that has got to be recognized is that the county needs funds to operate for police and fire, but at the same time we try to make sure that people pay their fair share -- not have some that are overpaying because of an oversight or market change," special magistrate Pedro Alvarez said.

Silver agrees – it’s all about paying his fair share – and when his two appeals were resolved, the VAB found he indeed did pay too much.

While his refunds of about $8,000 were a fraction of Wade’s, he said they came in handy nonetheless: "We did take a couple nice cruises—that was fun."

If you wish to appeal your assessment, you can do so at the Clerk of Court’s website: https://www2.miami-dadeclerk.com/vab/ReadSecond.aspx

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