Building swells county's tax rolls
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RED LEVEL -- Half of their belongings were outside in a U-Haul trailer. The unsodded lawn, Leona Williams joked, "looks like the Sahara." But nothing could spoil the thrill Friday as the Williams family moved into its first home, a pale-yellow farmhouse with crisp lime trim.
At last, Michael and Leona Williams, both teachers in the exceptional student education program, would have a place of their own to raise 4-year-old daughter Veronica.
"We needed something more permanent," Leona Williams said. "We decided that if we were going to stay, we needed something of our own."
Not only do they now have a place of their own on N Ira Martin Avenue, but the Williams family also has a place on the tax rolls. Their home is part of the $148-million in new construction Citrus has experienced during the past year, according to the Property Appraiser's Office.
Last week, Property Appraiser Ron Schultz certified the tax roll for the 2001-2002 fiscal year, putting the taxable value of county properties at $5.5-billion. That's a 6 percent increase over last year's $5.2-billion tax base.
With that increase, the county could keep its millage rate the same next year and still raise $2.7-million more in property taxes.
The new construction is a blend of new houses, primarily in the Central Ridge area, and blossoming businesses, Schultz said.
"We've had some nice commercial growth," Schultz said. "Apparently, at the national level, some demographic quanta have been met, because we are now getting Home Depots and Applebees and other things coming."
Aside from new construction, the county saw $182-million in increases of existing property values, fueled by a range of factors.
"There are building sites available and we've got (the Suncoast Parkway) opening up within the next couple of months," said Bob Hedick, president-elect of the Realtors Association of Citrus County. "I think there is a substantial amount of growth in Citrus County, and that's going to have an upward bias on property values."
"We are seeing the demand for houses on the upswing," Hedick said. "The availability of existing homes seems to be shrinking, so the demand is starting to push the prices up."
Both cities saw solid growth during the past year. More than $5-million in new construction in Inverness helped push property values from $236-million last year to $251-million this year, Deputy Property Appraiser Melanie Hensley said.
Crystal River saw $3.3-million in new construction, with overall property values rising from $245-million to $256-million.
But it should surprise no one that the bulk of the growth came in the central part of the county, Hensley said. Hundreds of new homes sprouted up this past year in Citrus Hills, Beverly Hills and Pine Ridge, boosting the value of neighboring homes and creating the need for new shops and other facilities.
"The economy here has been so good because of the demographics of our population," said Lorie Clark, owner of Clark Construction. "The baby boomers have reached the age of 55 to 65, and that's an age when the human being spends: homes, boats, cars, furniture, remodeling, vacations or all of the above."
"When the people go in, you have to serve them," Clark said. "So there's a demand to build churches, restaurants and things of that nature."
The new home buyers are evenly split between newcomers to the area and Citrus County residents -- like Michael and Leona Williams -- who want a different home to meet their changing needs, Clark said.
And despite the souring economic forecasts, the real estate market in Citrus County is going strong.
"Sometimes people get a little spooked when things are headed for a worse time," said Mark Wheeler, who handles sales and marketing for Wheeler Construction. "They feel a necessity to move now while things are still good. I've been hearing that for two years."
This year's lower interest rates have also helped making home buying more attractive, Hedick said.
"A lot of the 'recession' we keep hearing about correlates back to the technology companies, and that really doesn't affect Citrus County very much," Hedick said. "We're a retirement community, and people are still retiring."
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