Land of Opportunity

Dade's property tax assessment appeals system features sloppy record-keeping, a lack of oversight -- and a whole lot of money for those who know how to ask for it

In fact, special masters and consultants say the Property Appraisal Department tends to take a nonconfrontational approach to decisions with which they disagree: They simply raise the assessment again the following year. Ed Sachs, owner of South Florida Property Tax Consultants and president of the Florida Association of Property Tax Professionals, says he often finds himself appealing the same properties over and over again.

"It's typical of the abuse from the property appraiser's side," he says. "We have an appeal process that could be reduced and hundreds of thousands of dollars that could be saved by getting properties to the properly assessed value. The property tax appraiser has a massive job, and I wouldn't expect them to be correct in every case, but when they are shown they made a mistake, they need to rectify it. I can't tell you how often I've [presented information about why a property assessment should be reduced] and somebody in the property appraiser's office has said, 'I'll take my chances with the master.' They're rolling dice." Sachs estimates that the county could cut its hearing load in half just by admitting to obvious errors in assessed value.

And with fewer cases, the Property Appraisal Department could tighten its supervision of the process. Conflicts of interest could be ferreted out, and record keeping improved. The system could be made friendlier to homeowners who are unable to afford a consultant. A lighter case load might help the memory of special masters, enabling them to be held accountable for the large sums of money they divert from the funding of vital public services -- schools, police, roads, et cetera -- resulting in a more efficient and more responsive system in which everyone pays a fair share.

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