By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
Property Appraiser Leigh Barfield, who has now held that office for seven years, was the guest speaker at the Rotary Club at its Sept. 21 meeting. With tax notices now going out to property owners throughout the county, Barfield handed out some explanatory printouts and took a few moments to explain the process by which her office determines the market value of any given parcel of property, how various exemptions are figured into that amount to determine what portion is subject to tax, and who is qualified for various exemptions allowed by the state.
The Property Appraiser’s office analyzes real estate transactions in any given area to determine the market value of a particular parcel, Barfield explained, and Florida law requires that this be done annually. This also explains why a property owners’ assessment changes each year, sometimes going down, often going up. The market value will follow the ups and downs of the real estate market in general, and the homeowner’s neighborhood in particular. Also, whether or not the homeowner has made substantial improvements to his or her property, or has had major fire or storm damage in the past year will also affect the home’s value and therefore the amount of tax owed.
During the question and answer period, someone asked what happens when property owners refused to allow the appraiser’s office access to their property. Barfield replied that she would not put any of her employees in danger, especially if the property owner in question was threatening or owned bad dogs. Instead, her office relies on aerial photography from DOT and the State of Florida. They have computers with measuring tools and mapping software that will allow them to measure a barn or other building from the air, and the appraiser’s office must document the denial of access for the state. If the property owner later objects to the assessment, he or she is reminded that the appraiser’s office was denied access, and the resulting assessment cannot be changed without an inspection.
The county appraiser’s office is subject to oversight by the state, and the state has become more and more particular each year about the information it wants for each parcel of land and why it was appraised the way it was. For example, if there is a sudden dip in taxable amount due to damage or other changes, the local appraiser’s office must furnish documentation of whatever caused the change.
This year, the state is also conducting an audit of Madison County’s Property Appraiser’s Office, said Barfield. Auditors will come in and randomly select several parcels of land to audit, but she has no idea which ones they will choose.
Finally she discussed the exemptions that property owners may be entitled to, including the well-known homestead exemption. Others include exemptions for disabled veterans, senior citizens, the widowed, the wheelchair-disabled, and the blind.
Anyone who thinks they may be entitled to any of the above exemptions must go by the Appraiser’s office in Room 201 of the Courthouse Annex and fill out the appropriate forms, and must meet state-mandated criteria in order the claim the exemption; any one of the Property Appraiser’s staff will be glad to help with the paperwork, if needed, and answer any questions.
For further information, contact the Madison County Property Appraiser’s Office at (850) 973-6133 or visit the website at www. madisonpa.com.