Matt Caldwell knew it would be tough after his predecessor Ken Wilkinson’s four decades in the Lee County real estate appraiser’s office.
However, he very quickly puts his stamp on what is happening there.
Caldwell recently reached out to the North Fort Myers Civic Association and spoke about his job, what it entails, and how the many exemptions in the state’s ad valorem tax rules can benefit homeowners if they look hard enough.
Caldwell went through the process of how Lee County residents are taxed. The tax collector sends the bill, collects the money and sends it to where it belongs. The entities receiving the money set the tax rate, while Caldwell’s office determines what each property’s taxable valuation is.
It was a good time for the information as property owners will receive TRIM or Truth in Millage alerts. TRIM notices inform property owners what millage rates are being proposed by different tax authorities, who is taxing them, what each company’s proposed tax rate is, the estimated value of their property, how it will be taxed and most importantly is many – what they will owe in ad valorem and other taxes if those tax rates and rates are approved at upcoming public hearings.
Caldwell’s office will spend eight months beginning Jan. 1 valuing real estate. This date indicates who will receive the homestead exemption at that particular address.
“We’ve compiled everything we know about last year’s sales. We researched as much as we could about each property sold in the county.” he said, adding that there are nearly 550,000 packages they need to rate.
Property owners have the right to object to the valuation of their property. Individuals with questions about their property value can contact Caldwell’s office.
The county has about 2,000 appeals a year related to property values, which Caldwell said is a pretty good number given the number of packages.
Property owners have 25 days from the date of receipt of the TRIM notice to appeal. In Lee County, a judge will be called in to rule on the appeal, a process that lasts from August to February. Owners can even appeal the decision to district court, but those are rare and usually relate to commercial properties, Caldwell said.
He said the homestead exemption has become important this year with the unprecedented rise in property values, with many seeing increases of 20 percent or more. The homestead exemption limits the taxable rating increase to percent; For those without an exemption, it is capped at 10 percent.
Caldwell said there are many other exceptions as well. Perhaps the largest is for low-income seniors who have lived in the same home for 25 years. Those eligible for the additional exemption will likely not have to pay property taxes.
“We don’t want people to have to leave their homes because they can no longer afford to live there,” he said.