Campaigns center on appraiser's disposition
By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 30, 2000
INVERNESS -- John Barnes calls his opponent controversial.
Ron Schultz says he is simply competitive.
Either way you cut it, the incumbent's attitude has become the central issue in the property appraiser race.
Schultz, the Republican seeking his third elected term as the Citrus property appraiser, has stirred debate with some of his actions, from fighting Florida Power Corp. over a calculation in the company's 1997 tax bill to butting heads with the County Commission over budgeting issues.
His Democratic challenger, Barnes, said the disputes have cost the county thousands of dollars in attorneys' fees.
"The arrogance, the controversy, is something I don't think the taxpayers can afford," Barnes said.
Schultz said he does not seek out high-profile battles, but he is willing to fight them to defend the tax roll. In the Florida Power case, for example, the county's largest taxpayer eventually dropped its lawsuit against Schultz's office and agreed to pay an extra $1.25-million in property taxes -- a boon that eases the tax burden on every other taxpayer, Schultz said.
"I have to take a hard-nosed attitude with them to make them pay their fair share," Schultz said. "They will argue I'm confrontational because they don't want me to disagree with them."
Not only does Schultz enjoy the challenge, but he says he is the only candidate in this race qualified to do the job.
Schultz, 61, is both a certified Florida appraiser and a state certified general real estate appraiser. He was the property appraiser in Pinellas County for 12 years, but lost his re-election bid in 1988. In 1990, when then-Citrus County Property Appraiser Charles Allen stepped down for health reasons, the governor appointed Schultz, who has held the seat ever since.
"I have the education and the experience appropriate to holding this office, the most technical of the county elected positions," Schultz said, noting that he personally handles the appraisal of Florida Power.
Barnes, 57, has worked in real estate for 14 years and is the general manager of Ahern Realty and the owner of J&K Consultants. He was the first director of the county's parks and recreation division, a county commissioner from 1982 to 1986 and a two-time member of the Mosquito Control Board.
Barnes said he has helped many clients successfully challenge their property assessments from Schultz's office. He said he would study to become a certified Florida appraiser if elected.
The difference, Barnes said, is he would bring a more cooperative attitude to the office.
Barnes has criticized Schultz for his handling of the Electronic Data Processing fund, a half-million-dollar account that Schultz and the Tax Collector's Office have used since 1987 to pay for new computers.
The county argued that the fund fell under Schultz's budget and should be treated like all other county funds, in which leftover money is returned to the general fund at the end of the year.
But Schultz fought the county for about two years, saying the fund was a separate legal entity, and that it was necessary to keep money in the account year-round to pay for unexpected computer needs.
Schultz backed down in September and signed an agreement stating that the account would be audited as part of his budget, and unspent dollars would go back to the county at the end of the year.
The two men also differ over what the value of land is along the proposed path of the Suncoast Parkway. Schultz decreased the assessed values of those properties in 1995.
"When the law requires a Realtor to reveal to a potential buyer that the property is in the path of a future road, it's a recognition that it can have an impact on the value," Schultz said.
But Barnes said it was irresponsible of Schultz to decrease the property values based on a "rumor."
"It's still a rumor that that's where (the parkway) is going," Barnes said.
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