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Miami Herald – Sept. 15, 2005<


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 property.

''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 properties now.

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 are valued.

''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.''