Tuesday, January 28, 2020

St. Johns County audit finds hundreds of improper tax exemptions. (SAR)

328 parcels with unjustified homestead exemptions. Good work by the professional staff of the St. Johns County Property Appraiser's office and its contractor, The Exemption Project. Thank you to Eddie Creamer, Property Appraiser. From The St. Augustine Record:

St. Johns County audit finds hundreds of improper tax exemptions
By Sheldon Gardner
Posted Jan 27, 2020 at 4:27 PM
St. Augustine Record

An effort to find improper homestead exemptions in St. Johns County has begun to yield results, with a few hundred improperly homesteaded properties found so far.

St. Johns County Property Appraiser Eddie Creamer launched the effort in 2019, hiring the business The Exemption Project to comb through county records and find properties that are getting a homestead exemption when they don’t qualify for it.

The property appraiser started sending data to the business at the end of November and early December for review, Creamer said. The property appraiser does not send confidential information, such as social security numbers.

Because of the audit, 328 parcels have been identified as needing their homestead exemption removed, according to Creamer.

And The Exemption Project plans to send questionnaires to get information about 1,986 more parcels that could be improperly receiving a homestead exemption.

When the property appraiser determines a homestead exemption is improperly claimed, the office sends a certified letter that gives the property owner 30 days to show Creamer that his office is wrong or pay what is owed before a lien is filed, he said.

What is owed, which is defined by Florida law, is the unpaid taxes, a penalty of 50% of the unpaid taxes and 15% interest.

The Exemption Project gets 18% of taxes, penalties and interest collected per property they audit, according to the contract. The county does not pay a fee for the work.

Information found by The Exemption Project led the property appraiser to file 16 liens against parcels, according to Creamer. The liens are worth $43,872.63 in tax dollars, and $21,603.69 of that has been paid.

In addition to that, the property appraiser plans to file 15 more liens on Feb. 3, said Nikki Pontello, the property appraiser’s chief administrative officer.

There’s more work to be done on the audit.

The Exemption Project’s contract with Creamer’s office says the agreement will become a month-to-month contract after September. Creamer said he expects to keep the homestead reviews going.

“Simply because our county is growing so fast,” he said.

In other parts of the state, people have said that they were given homestead exemption in another state but didn’t know it or apply for it, and because of that they were hit with a large bill for back taxes, according to an article from the USA TODAY NETWORK-Florida Capital Bureau.

Legislation is proposed to help people in that situation, according to the article.

An analysis of Senate Bill 514 says that, “Current law provides that a property owner who is receiving or claiming an ad valorem tax exemption in another state that is conditioned upon permanent residency in that state may not receive the ad valorem homestead exemption in Florida.”

That applies regardless of whether the person applied for the exemption, according to the analysis.

The bill would allow a property owner to retain homestead exemption in Florida if that owner “demonstrates to the satisfaction of the property appraiser that they did not apply for the exemption or credit in the other state and ... are no longer receiving or will no longer receive the tax exemption or tax credit in another state.”

Creamer said he has not had someone claim that they didn’t realize they were receiving homestead exemption in another state.

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