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Citrus Property Appraiser

John Barnes says a new property appraiser will cut controversy. The incumbent, Ron Schultz, says that controversy works to residents' advantage.

By BRIDGET HALL GRUMET

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000


During his decade in office, Property Appraiser Ron Schultz has butted heads with the County Commission over his budget and fought the county's biggest taxpayers over questionable exemptions.

Schultz, a Republican, said he did so to ensure the independence of his office and the fairness of the tax bill that goes out to every resident.

But his Democratic challenger, John Barnes, said Schultz's lawsuits and his budget battles have cost taxpayers an untold amount in unnecessary legal fees.

"I see a great savings of tax dollars by a change in property appraiser," Barnes said. "There would be better communication and less controversy."

Schultz said his public battles have been worthwhile. For example, once Florida Power dropped its court challenge to its 1997 tax assessment, which included the value of pollution control equipment that had once been exempted, the company paid another $1.25-million in property taxes.

As for the County Commission's repeated challenges to his budgets, Schultz believes "this administration" is trying to control too many aspects of local government.

"They were using the property appraiser to send a political message to all constitutional officers: "Do what we say or we will punish you,"' Schultz said.

Barnes has also questioned Schultz's decision in 1995 to lower the assessed value of properties along the proposed path of the Suncoast Parkway. That decision decreased nearby land values by $1.22-million, and Barnes said it lowered the sale price for those lots.

"Ron reduced those lots from a rumor," Barnes said, noting that the proposed Citrus leg of the parkway has no funding or final path in place.

But Schultz said once real estate agents were required to tell potential buyers that a piece of property was in the parkway's path, the property became less valuable, and the tax rolls should reflect that.

Schultz was property appraiser in Pinellas County for 12 years until losing the office in the 1988 election. Two years later, the governor appointed him to replace Charles Allen, the ailing property appraiser in Citrus County.

Schultz retained his seat in the 1992 and 1996 elections, but said this bid would be his last. He already has notified the state that he will retire Jan. 4, 2004 -- the end of the term he now seeks.

Schultz has made an issue of his credentials: He is a certified Florida appraiser and a certified general appraiser, while Barnes is neither.

Barnes, a former county commissioner who has worked for 14 years as a real estate consultant, said he has the skills and local knowledge to run the property appraiser's office and would work toward his certification once elected.

THE JOB

The property appraiser determines the taxable value of land and buildings throughout the county. The term is four years and pays an annual salary of $97,124.

REPUBLICAN

RONALD J. SCHULTZ, 61, of Homosassa, is finishing his 10th year as Citrus County property appraiser. Schultz was born in New York and grew up in Clearwater. He taught for seven years at several Florida junior colleges and universities and was the Pinellas County property appraiser from 1976 to 1988. He is married and has two daughters. ASSETS: home, Palm Harbor condominiums, trust, software company, bank account. LIABILITIES: mortgage, bank loan. SOURCE OF INCOME: property appraiser salary, interest and dividends.

DEMOCRAT

JOHN THOMAS BARNES, 57, of Homosassa, has been a real estate consultant for the past 14 years. The Atlanta native came to Citrus County in 1970 to manage a Crystal River drug store. The county hired Barnes in 1976 as the first Parks and Recreation director, and in 1982, he won a seat on the County Commission. He left after one term to start his consulting business. He was also director of the Homosassa Area Chamber of Commerce for 25 years and has served on a score of community organizations. He is married and has a son. ASSETS: home and land. LIABILITIES: mortgage. SOURCE OF INCOME: work for a real estate agency and a consulting firm.

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