Pedro J. Garcia was elected Miami-Dade Property Appraiser by a wide margin, as voters favored the veteran professional over Eduardo “Eddy” González, a term-limited state representative from Hialeah with no experience appraising property.
At age 77, Garcia returns to the job he held from 2009 through 2012 when he narrowly lost his bid for re-election.
González, 44, with some $431,000 in campaign funding — more than twice the $197,000 raised by Garcia — campaigned vigorously on the theme that he would make the appraiser’s office more accessible to property owners.
During the campaign, Garcia, with more than 38 years of real estate appraising, dismissed his opponent as a “professional politician,” more interested in finding a soft landing in the face of term limits in the Florida Legislature than in the intricacies of running a large county office tasked with assessing real estate values for tax purposes.
The race was triggered when Carlos López-Cantera resigned as property appraiser in January, only a year into his four-year term, to be named lieutenant governor. Garcia was the first to file papers to run.
In a five-man race for the non-partisan post in the August primary, Garcia led the pack with González, a business development leader with CAC-Florida Medical Centers, placing second. Both men are Cuban-American and Republican.
The property appraiser — which first became an elected position in Miami-Dade in the 2008 election — decides the taxable value for almost a million parcels of commercial and residential property in the county and certifies the tax rolls for cities and other taxing authorities. The office has an annual budget of $34.7 million and 361 employees.
Garcia campaigned on a theme that he wants to “finish the job” he started during his first term and to establish the correct values for properties.
That pledge comes as the appraiser’s office has faced a mountain of assessment appeals filed with the Value Adjustment Board — many of which prevail — raising doubt about the accuracy of county appraisals.
The appraiser’s office also faces ongoing pressure to crack down on homestead exemption fraud, in which homeowners claim tax breaks to which they are not entitled. The issue has drawn scrutiny periodically because the budget crunches of the recession sent local governments scrambling for funds. Some interests, including the Police Benevolent Association, have argued that a concerted focus on weeding out such fraud would reap big returns by increasing property-tax revenue.
Garcia, owner of Exclusive Realty Corp., a Miami appraisal firm, drew support from the PBA. He also had backing from property-tax consultants, who make a living by appealing property assessments to the VAB and an endorsement from the Miami Association of Realtors, among others.
In conceding, González said, “I’m very excited at the opportunity to have run in an countywide race. I look forward to the opportunity to look at a future run countywide — either for this office or another office.’’