Each year in August, the Lee County Property Appraiser's office gives property owners a heads-up as to what they might expect their property taxes to be when the 2014 tax bill arrives in November. This is done by mailing out "TRIM" notices to all property owners on record.
TRIM notices - Truth in Millage - started arriving in city and county mailboxes earlier this week.
Property owners likely will see that their property values are up slightly as well as the amount they may be expected to pay as a result, minus any exemptions such as a homestead exemption.
The TRIM lists the 2013 tax rate and the taxes paid on the property. It also lists the proposed tax rate and estimated tax amount for 2014 if no budget changes are adopted by the taxing authorities as well the proposed tax rate and amount if budget changes are adopted. Final tax rates are due to the property appraiser's office by Sept. 15.
The millage rate is not set by the property appraiser, but by city and county boards, school districts, fire districts as are special assessments during public hearings before the Sept. 15 deadline for finalizing the various property and assessment rates.
"Property values are up by several percent and I see that as a trend," Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said.
Those who think their assessed value is set too high have 25 days to petition Wilkinson's office in person, though the mail or over the phone. Property owners will be paired with the analysts who did the actual assessment work on their property, Wilkinson said.
"We had 10,955 phone calls and 725 walk-ins last year," Wilkinson said. "I expect about the same this year, but a high percentage of the phone calls are about exemptions. There is no more accountable system anywhere."
If a property owner still is not happy with the answers they receive, they have a right to petition an independent value adjustment board for a hearing with a special appraiser.
"This is the best time to find out any mistakes we've made," said Wilkinson. "Property owners should not be afraid to call and inquire. We have the lowest percentage of inquiries in the state."
Tax rates are another issue. There are 88 separate taxing authorities in Lee County, the most of any county in the state. The appraiser has no control over the millage rates or assessments set by those authorities. Rates are set during public hearings at which citizens can attend and voice their opinions.
The city's fire assessment notices for the new budget year, which begins Oct. 1, are in the mail as well.
"City Council approved a 'not to exceed' recovery amount for fire services of 64 percent," a city release on the notices mailing states. "Property owners should note that the amount can be reduced at the future public hearings to adopt the City's FY 2015 budget."
With the city of Cape Coral's Fire Services Assessment tied up in the Florida Supreme Court, Cape Coral is between a rock and a hard place with regard to its budget and millage rate. Con-sequently, Cape City Council elected to keep its preliminary millage rate the same as last year at 7.7070 even though the 2015 budget is based on the Fire Services Assessment being implemented along with a 0.75 mil rate reduction. If the court rules on the Fire Services Assessment in favor of the city before the Sept. 15 deadline, the city could go ahead and lower the final rate as proposed, or elect to choose the "rollback rate" provided by the appraiser's office.
The public hearings for the city budget are at 5:05 p.m. on Sept. 4 and Sept.
One mil is equal to $1 for every $1,000 of taxable, assessed valuation.
The "rollback rate" is the rate that would generate the same amount of revenue as last year considering increases in property values. New construction is not included in the calculation of the rollback rate.
"It is very rare, but it does happen, that the rate that is certified to us usually stays there," said Wilkinson. "If the Cape gets that Fire Services Assessment through in time that would be great for the taxpayers."
Wilkinson's office mailed out more than 622,000 TRIM notices, making Lee County the fourth largest county in the state.
Once the millage rates are finalized with the appraiser's office, the data is turned over to the Lee County Tax Collector's office which sends out the tax bills by Nov. 1.
Property owners can take advantage of the largest discount for paying their tax bill in November. Discounts decrease for payments made in December, January and February.