Sunday, April 15, 2012

Michigan Couple Victims Of Hillsborough County Appraiser’s Poor Math Skills

Bethel and Rex Root have always paid their property taxes as soon as the bill arrived in their mailbox.

For nine years, there has been no problem.

But now, the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office says it miscalculated how much they owed all those years. The mistake means the Roots received exemptions they weren’t entitled to of more than $367,000 in their home’s value.

“I was quite flabbergasted,” Bethel Root said.

Making matters worse, the county placed a lien on the home, and the only way to remove it was to pay $5,000 in back taxes. So the Roots, retired and on a fixed income, sent in the money last month.

But then, a few weeks later, the county called with another mistake. Now they owe $3,000 more.

“They change the totals all the time,” Root said. “It depends on what day it is there, I think.”

How could this happen?

Jim Glaros, assistant chief deputy for the Hillsborough County Property Appraiser’s Office, said the Root’s case is the perfect storm of a clerical error mixed with the homeowners’ misunderstanding of the homestead exemption.

“We’ve tried so many times to educate homeowners, but many people just pay their bill without paying attention to the exemptions, and I do get that,” Glaros said.

The Roots’ situation is an extreme example, he said. Mistakes typically don’t go nine years before they are discovered. Still, Glaros said he hopes this case will spur renewed diligence on the part of his office and homeowners in checking assessments.

It turns out there were actually two mistakes that led to the shortfall in taxes collected from the Roots. First, the property appraiser’s office didn’t assess the property correctly. And then the tax collector didn’t charge enough.

When the Roots bought their home in 2001, the property appraiser’s office failed to remove the $25,000 homestead exemption the previous owner had on the home. Florida law allows homeowners a break on their taxes for their primary home.

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