Monday, May 14, 2012

Owners upset with new law for tax appeals

 By Paul Owers, Sun Sentinel

Hundreds of South Florida property owners who wanted to appeal their tax bills are out of luck because they didn't pay first.

Rejection letters have been sent to nearly 400 property owners in Palm Beach County and 1,200 in Broward because they didn't pay most of their taxes by March 31 – even though they thought their bills were too high.

Now they're stuck paying the full amounts, plus interest.

Under a law that took effect July 1, owners who want to appeal must pay 75 percent of their property taxes and all of their special assessments, or non-ad valorem taxes, before April 1.

 In the past, property owners didn't have to pay until appeals were heard.

Palm Beach County received7,615 petitions for appeal, so the vast majority of homeowners complied. Still, the new rule is confusing, said Palm Beach County Commissioner Steven Abrams, who chairs the county's Value Adjustment Board, which hears the appeals.

Peter Krenzer, who lives west of Palm Beach Gardens, appealed his $4,950 tax bill in December, and the county agreed to reduce his taxes. He said officials told him to wait for a lower tax bill that would have been about $1,500 cheaper.

Instead, Krenzer, 49, received a letter, telling him that his appeal was denied because he didn't comply with the law. He was stuck paying the full amount, plus late fees.

Had he known, he said, he would have paid the taxes before the deadline.

"It was never brought up that there was this new law," he said. "People were not talking about that."
Teri Wambach, a manager in the county's Tax Collector's Office, told Krenzer in an email that he and other property owners were given information about the new rule when they signed up to appeal. It's unclear why the county heard Krenzer's appeal even though he hadn't paid his taxes.

Other residents may face the same problem as Krenzer, Abrams said. He says state lawmakers should have allowed for more of a transition period.

"This is concerning," Abrams said. "But the legislature made the law. We didn't."
Property tax bills are mailed in November and due by March 31 of the following year, with discounts available for paying early.

Owners can appeal their assessments to the Value Adjustment Board in individual counties. The boards are holding hearings now, and special magistrates make the final decisions.

For owners who win their appeal, the county sends a refund and 12 percent interest of the refund amount from April 1.

Property owners who have the means to pay most of their taxes up front stand to benefit from the law, said
Mason Sharpe of the Property Tax Appeal Group, a Hialeah-based company. He advises clients to pay the entire tax bill because they can make more money in interest if they win the appeal.

But other owners who aren't as financially stable may not be able to take advantage, Sharpe said.
Lawmakers passed the measure to help local governments improve their cash flow amid delays that can extend the appeals process to a year or more.

Some owners were not paying taxes until after counties completed their hearings, according to an analysis by the state House of Representatives.

In Broward County, Linda Varisco wanted to appeal the $1.34 million assessment on the 15,000-square-foot office building she owns in Sunrise, only to be denied because she didn't pay her taxes in time. She ended up paying $32,800, including interest.

Varisco, who's adamant that the county's appraisal is too high, said she never heard about the law.

"My life is kind of hectic," said Varisco, 49, a chiropractor. "I never even got a bill under my nose to even think about it."

Lynda Phillips, supervisor of Broward's Value Adjustment Board, said notices have been posted in the board's office and on its website since last year.

"It sort of jumps up on you, and a lot of people are confused by this," she said. "Hopefully is will go smoother next year.", 561-243-6529 or Twitter @paulowers,0,4441534.story
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