Florida Appraisers Ask to Cut Value of Gulf Property Hit by Oil

Two of Florida’s elected property appraisers asked state lawmakers to let them cut the value of coastal real estate to reflect damage from BP Plc’s oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico and get BP to make up for lost tax revenue.

Coastal property values have fallen as oil washed up on beaches and as hotel reservations tumbled as much as 50 percent, said Gregory Brown, property appraiser in Santa Rosa County in the state’s western panhandle, in a phone interview. The appraisers, who held a press conference today at the Escambia Emergency Operations Center in Pensacola, said it was too soon to quantify the valuation change.

Brown and Escambia County appraiser Chris Jones met with state lawmakers yesterday. They discussed their request to Governor Charlie Crist to call a special session of the Legislature to authorize governments affected by the spill to revalue property for the current tax year, something that has been done after hurricanes and tornadoes in the past.

The spill is “a slow-moving nightmare” that may cut tax collections for the state and local taxing authorities, Brown said. He and Jones also want lawmakers to force London-based BP to make up lost tax revenue.

The spill will hurt travel to the area, though the effect on revenue and property values still isn’t clear, Sean Snaith, an economist at the University of Central Florida in Orlando, said in a phone interview. A 10 percent decline in tourism may put 39,000 people out of work and reduce income in the 23 Gulf Coast counties by $2.2 billion, he said.

Mid-Year Adjustment

The appraisers are seeking permission to reflect damage to property values from the spill in tax bills property owners will receive in November, Jones said in a phone interview today. Under state law they can’t alter the value assigned to property on Jan. 1 in the middle of the year, he said.

Appraisers are elected in Florida and it’s their job to provide the fairest property values possible to constituents, said Jones. He said he values 165,000 pieces of property, including 30,000 on the coast. Another 50,000 to 60,000 properties are along inland waterways whose values may drop if exposed to the oil, he said.

Escambia County’s property was appraised at $27.6 billion in 2009, according to the municipality’s financial filings. After property values fell about 6 percent last year, the county had to cut spending by $24 million, the documents show.

“What do I tell the owner of a $1 million house is the value if he can no longer walk on the beach?” asked Jones. “We want to hold our own citizens harmless and don’t want to put the burden on other taxpayers. We want BP to foot the bill.”

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