Every year, the Property Appraiser’s office sends the Miami-Dade County School Board a bill for its services hearing tax appeals. Every year, the school board has paid the invoice to the tune of about $1.5 million annually.
But not this year. The superintendent and school board have decided not to pay the latest bill after an audit uncovered a state law that appears to specifically prohibit the property appraiser from charging the school district.
Taking it a step further, board members at a meeting on Wednesday also asked district lawyers to determine whether they can go after the millions paid since the law went into place about 40 years ago.
About $7.5 million was paid between 2008 and 2012 alone, according to the district.
“This is something we should take as far back as we have to go, and to the highest level,” school board Vice Chair Larry Feldman said at an audit committee meeting on Thursday. “We have to make sure we have our money back.”
The issue was discovered by a school district audit of the Property Appraiser, prompted by the district’s frustration over the tax appeal process.
A black log of appeals means the school district doesn’t know how much money it will collect until well after its budget year starts. The delay also causes the school district to miss out on money from Tallahassee that’s supposed to cover the gap between initial tax projections and what actually comes in.
In the next budget year, the district is bracing for an almost $50 million funding gap because of the issue.
“Those funds don’t belong to us. They don’t belong to the county. They belong to kids and teachers,” said Superintendent Alberto Carvalho.
By state law, the Value Adjustment Board, which hears property tax appeals, is allowed to recoup 40 percent of its costs by billing the school district. The district will continue to pay that.
But the Property Appraiser has also been billing the district for its expenses in the tax appeal process, such as providing staff for hearings. The school district says state law prohibits that. State statute says the property appraiser’s services should be billed to county taxing authorities “except municipalities and the district school board.”
Among the other findings of the audit:
▪ Tax appeal hearings are “unnecessarily delayed” because of inefficient scheduling. The property appraiser counters partly that, because many appeals are filed by the same people, it’s impossible to maximize schedules because the person appealing can’t be in more than one meeting at a time.
▪ The difference between preliminary tax values put out by the property appraiser and the final values is substantially greater in Miami-Dade than other counties. The property appraiser counters that there are also more appeals filed in Miami-Dade, which is bound to result in more reductions.
▪ Some documentation for appeals was missing required information. The property appraiser counters it found all the information the school district asked for, and that some information is confidential under state law.
At a school board audit meeting Wednesday, Deputy Property appraiser Lazaro Solis said the office plans to “collaborate” with the school district.
“The office is committed to making sure we work through this problem together,” Solis said.
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