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Property tax laid out step by step

By Jim Smith
Published August 9, 2006

There has been a lot of talk recently about soaring property values and taxes. It's no secret Pinellas County has seen tremendous activity in the real estate marketplace in the past five years. And higher values often mean higher property taxes.

Property owners not only have the right to know how their property values and property taxes are determined, they have a responsibility to know, as well. Trying to get answers, however, can be more confusing than informative. And let's face it, paperwork from the government is typically written in a language unto itself, which is not always easy to understand.

It is for that very reason the property appraiser's office developed an information supplement to explain, in everyday language, everything property owners need to know about their property value and property taxes, and what steps to take if they disagree with either.

In August, property owners will receive a Truth In Millage, or TRIM notice, along with the aforementioned TRIM supplement.

Read the notice and the supplement carefully! Between these two documents, property owners will be armed with valuable, easy-to-understand information.

The TRIM notice shows last year's value and taxes, and the current year's proposed value and taxes, and any exemptions the property owner qualifies for. The property values on the 2006 TRIM notice are based on sales in the real estate market during 2005, when sales were the highest in our history. The activity in the market during 2006 will be reflected on the 2007 TRIM notice. Also listed - and this is very important - are the dates, times, and locations of the budget hearings for the taxing authorities affecting each tax district.

With this easy-to-understand information, property owners can clearly see which entities affect their property taxes. And property owners are afforded the opportunity to have a say in the process. The dates, times and locations of the budget hearings of those entities are listed right on the front of the TRIM notice.

The property appraiser submits to the taxing authorities an estimate of total property value, and they use these values to help set their budgets. A multiplier, known as the millage rate, is determined as a result of those budget hearings.

When the property appraiser submits those values, he also submits a "millage roll-back rate." This roll-back rate is the millage rate the taxing authorities can set in order to keep the revenue from property taxes the same as it was the previous year, even though property values have risen.

In other words, taxes could go up or down, not due to the appraised value but due to millage rates set by the taxing authorities.

How can a property owner make a difference in the taxes he or she eventually pays? Attend the budget meetings listed on the TRIM notice. The public is invited to listen in as the budget is being discussed, and to ask questions of those setting the budget during the process. The opportunity to communicate with the very people who decide how tax dollars will be spent is open to everyone. If the taxing authorities don't have any input or opinion or questions from those whose tax dollars they receive, tax dollars will be spent in the manner in which they choose.

All the information a property owner needs is as close as his or her mailbox. Watch for the TRIM notice and supplement, review the information, and make time to attend those meetings.

Jim Smith is the property appraiser for Pinellas County.

[Last modified August 8, 2006, 21:54:20]

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