Voters may be able to elect property appraiser
By Shannon Pettypiece
Voters could have the opportunity to elect the county's property appraiser if a referendum is approved by Miami-Dade County commissioners.
Under a resolution heading to the commission's budget and finance committee today (2/12), voters would be able to decide if they want to choose their property appraiser or leave it in the hands of the county manager. The referendum could be on the Aug. 31 ballot.
Also on that ballot will be the mayoral primaries. The referendum's sponsor, Miami-Dade Commissioner Jimmy Morales, is a mayoral candidate.
If voters say they want to take over selection of a property appraiser, the decision could be in their hands in the 2006 election.
If the referendum is approved by the committee, led by Commissioner Morales, it would go before the full commission in May or June.
An elected property appraiser would be more responsive to the public, Commissioner Morales said, by prompting more education about tax exemptions and causing the appraiser to improve the appraisal system.
The county's property appraiser is responsible for assessing the value of all property. The valuation is used to set taxes.
"There is a tremendous public distrust of the whole appraisal process," Commissioner Morales said. "There is a real disconnect between the public and this function."
Commissioner Morales said his office gets numerous calls from constituents who think the system is sometimes unfair and unorganized and equate the current policy to taxation without representation.
"I certainly have heard from a lot of people in my district that believe this office needs to be brought more in touch with the public," he said. "Because it has never been an elected office, my sense is that the office does not do a lot in public education. Having an elected property appraiser would force that office to be more responsive."
County Manager George Burgess said Tuesday that the current system is working and that rules and regulations governing the appraiser make the system fair and accountable.
"It is a very professional, regulated responsibility that really shouldn't be politicized. It is a professional duty," Mr. Burgess said. "You can't have an appraiser just go willy-nilly. ... It is certainly not handled by people who are pandering or responding to pressures they shouldn't respond to."
While concerns have been raised that an elected appraiser would politicize the office, Commissioner Morales said the department is closely watched by the state to weed out possible corruption.
"There is a good amount of due process built into the system," he said. "It is a process that is fairly well-regulated."
Miami-Dade is the only county in Florida without an elected property appraiser. Broward County voters have elected their appraiser since the 1930s.
"Fifty years ago, we decided not to, but a lot of things have changed since then," Commissioner Morales said. "It may be worthwhile to examine this issue again."
Mr. Burgess said five counties are considering making their appraiser an appointee.
Changing an appointed position to an elected one is a decision that must be made by voters and cannot be done by the commission, according to county law.
Broward County Property Appraiser William Markham said that having an elected official in the position is part of the checks and balances required in government.
"The checks and balances have to do with the same organization levying the taxes that hires the individual that makes the assessments," said Mr. Markham, who has filled his post since 1968. "I believe elected officials are more responsive to the people."