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Tax protester sees no relief from Value Adjustment Board

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By The Staff

BRONSON - George Sandora of Otter Creek served as an agent for Greg Lukehart of 12155 S.W. 165TH Terrace, Cedar Key, when Lukehart petitioned the Levy County Value Adjustment Board (VAB) for a reduced value of taxable property. The VAB - county commissioners Danny Stevens, Lilly Rooks and Tony Parker, and School Board members Beth Davis and Rick Turner - unanimously upheld the assessment made by Levy County Property Appraiser Francis Akins. Their agreement to uphold Akins' assessments came even after Sandora gave an impassioned speech. The decrease in the market value of Lukehart's homestead shows there should not have been an increase in the appraised taxable value of the property this year, Sandora said. "When the market value of a property is decreasing," Sandora said, it is an arbitrary and capricious decision to increase table value. The only determining principle that appears to be applied is, 'We do it because we can.' And that is not a valid principle." Attorney Jordan Stuart, representing Akins, read Florida law to show Sandora that every county property appraiser in Florida must reassess property each year. Until the value of the property reaches market value, she said, it will be increased. This year, the value of Lukehart?s property went up by 2.5 percent, she said. This is below the 3 percent increase allowed by the Save Our Homes Act. "Many of us have called that (Save Our Homes Act) the Wood and Stuart retirement fund," Stuart said. "It has generated more litigation since 1985 than I can remember (anything else generating litigation)." Her partner is attorney Gaylord "Jay" Wood. She went on to say that in this case, the market value of the Lukehart homestead is higher than the current assessed value. Akins explained that the location of a structure affects its value. "Location, location, location," Akins said in that regard. The exact same house in one part of Levy County can have an assessed taxable value lower or higher than when it is in another part of the county, Akins said. Sandora called the assessment on Lukehart's property "taxpayer gouging." Even before the denial of the petition came from the VAB, Sandora alluded to future action. "If denied," he said, "we understand the right to appeal to the Legislature, now in session on this issue, and to solicit persons interested in a class-action lawsuit on behalf of all property owners who have had their taxable value increased while their market value decreased." Of the approximately 50,000 parcels appraised by Akins' staff, less than a half dozen petitioners showed up for the VAB hearing on Oct. 24. Of those petitioners, no person received any property assessment relief or classified use value alterations from the decisions Akins and staff had made in those regards.