Hillsborough Property Appraiser
By JEFF TESTERMAN
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 1, 2000
Despite being outspent $188,837 to $32,478 four years ago, political newcomer Rob Turner upset incumbent Ron Alderman and vowed to guide the Hillsborough Property Appraiser's Office out of a period marked by cronyism, scandal and ineptitude.
Turner's first action was to fire 13 members of Alderman's inner circle, including Patrick J. Hannon, then the head of Alderman's tangible property section.
Now, Hannon and a coterie of other fired Alderman employees are trying to put Turner out of a job.
Using strong doses of negative advertising, Hannon has accused Turner of fostering a poor business climate in Hillsborough, being unfriendly to labor, using his office for political purposes, taking residential assessments to unnecessarily high levels and robbing farmers of valuable greenbelt exemptions.
"When he went after the Bucs and taxes at the stadium, it was just for political advantage," Hannon says. "He's created a hostile business environment here.
"And in some cases, he's gone after things with a chainsaw instead of a scalpel."
Hannon says he wants to improve digital mapping at the appraiser's office and let the attorney general guide him in taxing businesses at such places as the stadium and Port of Tampa.
Above all, Hannon points to the "meteoric rise" in the tax roll under Turner and says he wants to hold the line on assessments.
Hannon has offered little to back up his claims, however. The $10.4-billion increase in the tax roll in the last four years, for instance, has been caused mostly by new construction.
And Hannon's negative ads -- particularly one in which he blamed Turner for the suicide of a former employee -- not only have proved to be inaccurate, but also led to a backlash against Hannon's campaign.
Turner says Hannon merely represents the core group under Alderman. "When I took office, I looked at issues of integrity, competence and professionalism," Turner says. "I've spent four years trying to reform this office and fix the problems this core group was responsible for."
Turner believes he has closed what was called "the candy store" under Alderman and brought fairness to the tax roll. He makes no apologies for taxing businesses at the port, the stadium or the airport or for eliminating what he says were greenbelt exemption abuses.
He has modernized office computers, upgraded the property appraiser's Web site and increased in-house training.
Turner cut legal fees by referring casework to the county attorney, made homestead exemption filing simpler by allowing forms to be completed at real estate closings in title offices, opened new satellite offices and printed information brochures in Spanish.
With those reforms, Turner also reduced the office's annual budget from $9.4-million in Alderman's last term to $8.9-million this year.
The Hillsborough property appraiser is responsible for determining tax exemptions and setting levels of assessment on all real estate and tangible personal property. This year, the office operates with about 152 employees and a budget of nearly $8.9-million. The property appraiser serves a four-year term and is paid $122,297 annually.
ROBERT E. "ROB" TURNER, 49, is a former bank executive who left his position as a vice president in the real estate division of NationsBank in 1996 to run for office. The Davis Islands resident has a bachelor's degree in business administration and is a state-certified general appraiser. Turner is married and has one child. ASSETS: home, vacation condo and five rental properties, bank stock, automobiles and personal effects. LIABILITIES: real estate mortgage, bank line of credit. SOURCE OF INCOME: property appraiser's salary, investments.
PATRICK J. HANNON, 55, is Tampa resident now on leave from his job as a tax analyst for TECO Energy. From 1991 until 1997, he was chief of the tangible property section at the Hillsborough Property Appraiser's Office. Before that, he was manager of property taxes for the Jim Walter Corp. He has a bachelor's degree and a master's degree in finance. Hannon is a widower and has one child. ASSETS: home, residential mortgage, securities, truck and personal effects. LIABILITIES: two credit union loans. SOURCE OF INCOME: investments.
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