Dade property tax appeal flood to meet massive 2008 backlog
By Risa Polansky
Less than six weeks before a flood of 2009 property tax appeals is due, about half of 2008's 100,000-plus have yet to be heard.
Delays mean taxpayers who overpay on appeal wait longer for refunds. And when they do get money back, it's without interest.
More magistrates are lined up to handle 2009 appeals: about 41, up from 30. But it could be late this year or early next before the 2009 cycle begins.
For the 2007 tax year, property owners appealed assessments on 64,000 parcels. That number shot up to 102,000 for 2008, said Robert Alfaro, manager of the county's Value Adjustment Board.
Generally, the board and the private special magistrates who hear appeals finish the process by October.
Now, in August, they're about halfway through last year's, Mr. Alfaro said, with no looming legal deadline to finish.
He estimates hearings are "probably going to go into December… We could go into the following year. I hope we don't."
Mitchell Feldman, president of FBS Property Tax Abatement, said "it's not necessarily a problem" — except that property owners paid 2008 taxes as early as last November. "They may have overpaid their taxes and have not yet received a refund."
That's money they could be saving, investing or spending, Mr. Feldman said.
But when taxpayers win appeals, "that money's not paid back with interest."
And if the county disagrees with an appeal ruling and the tax reduction exceeds certain limits, the property appraiser can sue for the money back.
In that case, Mr. Feldman said, "there's an interest penalty. But it doesn't work the other way."
To finish tackling the 2008 appeals, magistrates have been holding more hearings than ever in satellite locations, the North and South Dade government centers, Mr. Alfaro said.
To speed the process, two new hearing rooms opened last month.
"We can't add more cases to a caseload per day because we already schedule 50 to 60 cases per day per room," he added.
Property owners are to receive 2009 assessments from the property appraiser Aug. 24 and have 25 days to appeal.
It's unclear now whether the Value Adjustment Board will begin hearing those before 2008's appeals are out of the way.
"It all depends," Mr. Alfaro said. "We could start if we have the hearing rooms available. But if we're going full blast for the '08, we probably won't be able to do that. If the amount of cases left for '08 allows us to schedule for '09 cases, we'll do both tax years simultaneously."
There's no way of knowing how many appeals to expect, he said.
"We're preparing for the worst — probably the same amount of cases. But we have no idea how people are going to react when they get their proposed tax notice."
Appellant representatives expect an avalanche and are gearing up.
Anticipating more appeals, Mr. Feldman teamed with law firm Bilzin Sumberg to form the tax abatement group.
"If there were a lot more filed last year," he said, "there are going to be even more filed this year."
Former appraiser Tom Dixon suggested "double hearings" — allowing property owners appealing 2008 and 2009 assessments to be heard for both at once.
Not possible, Mr. Alfaro said.
"Each year stands on its own."