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TRIM notices mailed out on Friday

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Ag exemptions also being checked

By Lou Elliott Jones

Levy County Property Appraiser Oz Barker told the Chiefland Rotary Club there is one thing everyone should keep in mind about his work. "I don't do taxes, I do assessments," he said addressing the group on Aug. 11. Barker told the Rotarians that real property sales in the county are down from its high point in 2005,  and  foreclosures are continuing.  He also let the Rotarians know that his office will be putting the TRIM (Truth in Millage) property tax notices in the mail on Friday, Aug. 20. And when property owners get them they should read them. "On Monday we'll get busy after that," Barker said.  He said about 7,200 owners out of the county's more than 12,000 owners will see an increase in their assessment.  By law Barker is limited to a 3 percent cap on increases in assessments which is tied to the federal Consumer Price Index. Last year, the CPI went up 2.7 percent.  Barker said he spoke with an economist at a recent property appraisers' meeting. "He says from what he has seen he thinks the we've seen the worst," Barker said. But he warned the group that Levy County is often 18 months to two years behind the rest of the state. "In Cedar Key we're seeing sales are down and through Yankeetown on the water ... it's crashing down there," Barker said.  The property appraiser said the county had 488 property sales in 2009 compared to 5,950 at the height of the land boom in 2005. Since that high sales have continually dropped with 2,377 in 2006, 1,321 in 2007 and 872 in 2008. The taxable value of Levy County property has been dropping since it hit a high of $2.44 billion in 2007 to $2.236 billion in 2008, $1,980 billion in 2009 and $1.871 billion this year. The average home price outside Cedar Key has also dropped since hitting an all-time high of $75.600 in 2007 to $76,300 in 2008 and $61,900 in 2009. As a result of the changes in the market, property values in the county are down overall by 5.5 percent and in Cedar Key and Yankeetown are down about 14 percent from last year. In Williston, values are up about 3 percent. Barker gave the Rotarians a list of proposed millages for the various government agencies for Levy County. Cedar Key's tentative overall millage is 20.2205, up from 19.5928 in 2009. Cedar Key's proposed millage is the fifth highest in the county, behind Williston (21.5941), Inglis (20.6916) Otter Creek (20.5676) and Chiefland (20.3176). The millage for Levy County is 7.4212 per thousand of value, the same as last year, and the school board millage is 7.7510 mils.  But one area where Barker says his office is "taking seriously" is the use of agriculture exemptions to lower a property tax bill. "Basically we're going to require things," Barker said. "I gotta see some cows or at least some crap if you're supposed to be running an business. ... I've pulled at some that haven't even got a fence." For those who claim their business is tree farming, Barker says the property needs to be planted — and harvested — and reforested on a regular basis. "Hardwoods is now my No. 1 challenge," he said. "You need to give me a timber management plan and I've got to see a commercial intent." Barker handed out guidelines for obtaining a timber/agriculture exemption to the Rotarians.