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– Sept. 15, 2005
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County manager defends apartments' appraisals
County Manager George Burgess said a plan to give affordable-housing apartments a property tax break would be illegal
By Michael Vasquez
Miami-Dade County Manager George Burgess on Wednesday strongly defended
the way county government values property, after accusations from Miami
Mayor Manny Diaz and other city leaders that the county is making the
region's affordable-housing crunch worse.
On Monday, Diaz criticized the county property appraiser for hitting
landlords of low and moderate-income apartment complexes with whopping
increases in annual assessments. The mayor said the county calculates
its appraisals based too much on properties' market values and not
enough on the income they produce.
The higher appraisals typically lead to higher taxes, which can force
landlords to hike rents or sell outright to condo developers.
In his defense, Burgess said the appraisal methods can't change under
state law. He added that city leaders' approval of countless condo
projects has helped fuel the area's red-hot real estate boom. Now that
that boom is starting to price landlords of modest apartments out of
the market, the city is blaming the county for a problem it helped
create, Burgess said.
''That's the irony of it,'' he said.
Burgess' comments came a day after he defended himself through a
written memo distributed to county commissioners and Miami-Dade County
Mayor Carlos Alvarez.
''While I commend Mayor Diaz for bringing forth a proposal that
provides tax relief for our low-income residents, it is important that
the facts be presented accurately,'' Burgess wrote in that memo.
Alvarez told The Herald that the memo and a conversation with Burgess
convinced him the county is valuing property appropriately.
When told of Burgess' comments, Diaz on Wednesday denied the city is
playing a blame game, saying that county appraisals are not fairly
using the discretion state law gives them when it comes to sizing up
''Properties are different,'' Diaz said Wednesday. ``Just because that
nice condo is going up across the street, it doesn't mean that value
should be transferred over to this low or moderate-income property.''
Diaz hopes to persuade the state Legislature to change the rules
governing appraisals so that landlords of affordable apartment
complexes catch a break. In the meantime, Diaz plans to push county
commissioners to pass an ordinance tweaking how the county appraises
That second goal has provoked the ire of Burgess, who says the county is following state law to the letter.
Burgess said his disagreement with Miami officials hasn't hurt their
cordial working relationship, and that he would be willing to join Diaz
in lobbying for state law changes in how affordable apartment complexes
''We all seem to be on the same page in that regard,'' Diaz said.
Frank Desguin, President-elect of the Florida Association of Property
Appraisers, said state law forces appraisers to value a property by the
''highest and best use'' -- essentially assuming the owner is making as
much money from the land as possible.
A generous landlord who charges lower rents than he or she could is not entitled to any special treatment, Desguin said.
''You treat similar properties similar ways,'' Desguin said. ``It's
tough sometimes. Maybe that landlord is a darn decent person.''