County admits mobile home property assessments were too high

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Posted: Tuesday, March 19, 2013 7:06 pm | Updated: 9:04 pm, Tue Apr 2, 2013.

VENICE, Fla. - There are more than 19,000 manufactured homes in Sarasota County, and many of those who live inside saw significant increases in their taxes this year despite living in areas with flat or declining property values.

Some have fought back.

Tuesday it became official when a value adjustment board approved a reduction of more than $16 million in assessments for just two of the 60 commercial parks.

One park had even seen a property value increase of more than 90%. A magistrate said the formula the county used to come up with the values was quote "inconsistent with professional appraisal practices."

Now some will be getting back money. The impact on the rest of the county is yet to be seen.

"I think a lot of people probably don't realize how their taxes are computed." Retired Venice resident Mike Rafferty has a little hobby of meticulously going through how he and his neighbors are taxed. "Now I probably know enough to be dangerous."

He was dismayed this year when he noticed the lot his home sits on and the 1,300 other ones in his Bay Indies mobile home park in Venice were getting a 22% property value increase. "It just wasn't fair at this time when property values all around us were going down and are values were being increased."

Rafferty says he also saw significant boosts from the property appraiser’s office for all of the 60 commercially-owned parks in the county. The taxpayer is actually the companies which own them, but typically they just divide the bill between residents -- many who are retired and on a fixed income. "Any increase that we see in taxes or utility rates gets the attention of our residents."

Rafferty was able to mobilize his neighbors and protest. In a rare move, a magistrate concluding the property appraiser’s office failed to properly consider Florida statues, saying there were no legitimate comps to back up the increases.

"Based on the decision rendered, it was a flawed process," says Rafferty.

Tuesday, the county's Value Adjustment Board approved the reduction on two parks which complained -- a reduction in value of around $16 million.

"The decision was to reduce the appraised value for Bay Indies by $8 million, and the appraised value of our neighbor Lake Village by the same amount," says Rafferty.

He says his neighbors could be getting back around $75 each for just this year, and likely more savings for them and all similar parks every year after. Potentially, more money will be needed from everyone else to make up the difference.

"Commercial parks are going to see relief, and that relief is going to be absorbed by some of the other taxpayers in the county."

ABC 7 called Sarasota County property appraiser Bill Furst to go over some of the details and the findings. He told us he was out for the day but would conduct a phone interview with us later in the day. He had not called us back or answered the phone when this story aired.

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