Taxable property values in Lee County increased by more than 6 percent last year, according to figures released Tuesday by the Lee County Property Appraiser.
But the total value of property in the county is still about $10 billion behind what real estate was worth a decade ago, right before the Great Recession.
Fort Myers had the highest percentage increase of the municipalities with almost 8.1 percent, closely followed by Cape Coral’s 7.9 percent. San Carlos Fire District’s 9.4 percent was the largest increase of districts that use property taxes to raise money.
The figures released Tuesday are the first look that local officials get at how much property values increased. The increased valuation means more money can be raised by keeping taxes at the same rate or even lowering the rate to receive the same amount of money next year.
The total value of property in Lee County as of Jan 1 was $103 billion. After exemptions and other allowances, the total taxable value is $72.3 billion.
Lee County officials had been expecting an increase of about 8.3 percent. The projected increase released by Wilkinson was 6.56 percent.
“It makes us want to be very cautious,” said Lee County Manager Roger Desjarlais.
Desjarlais said the impact may come in discretionary spending, that does not impact on-going programs included every year in the county’s “continuation budget” intended to maintain the current service levels.
County officials decided to take a cautious approach as they make spending recommendations to the county commission for a couple of reasons.
First, the Legislature put a $25,000 increase in the homestead exemption on the ballot. An increase in exemptions would reduce the taxable value of homes for future years.
There have also been signs that a rapid increase in property values, as the county came out of the Great Recession could be slowing.
“We’ve been analyzing some of the economic conditions that we see right now, we see that the value of building permits is down year over year from 2016 to 2017,” Desjarlais said. “Some of the economists are starting to talk about a correction in 2018, one says we’re in the seventh-inning stretch of the economic recovery.”
A final determination of values is a month away. Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said state law requires an estimate by the end of May
“We have another month of work to do,” he said.
Adding to uncertainty in county government are provisions of President Trump’s budget that could impact local government.
One is a proposed end to Community Development Block Grants that have provided more than $2 million per year for human services programs in the county. They were used for homeless shelters, rehabilitating homes, parks and sidewalk construction.
Increases in property values are driven by new construction and by prices on properties sold from one year to the next. Figures released this week reflect values during the 2016 calendar year.
A year ago, the county had lower-than-expected estimates in May following by a final value in June that was higher than projected
Lee County has more than 90 taxing units. The list includes the county, the Lee School District, incorporated communities, 17 fire districts and a dozens of special taxing units for such things as mosquito control and street lighting.
The county and its six incorporated municipalities depend on projections from state revenue conferences in preliminary budgeting. The state has imposed a strict schedule on local government intended to set tax rates in September.
In 2016, the initial taxable property value increase was set by Wilkinson’s office at 6.6 percent compared to the previous year. But when the final figures came out at the end of June, the increase was revised to 8.51 percent.
With a taxable value increase of 5.93 percent, Bonita Springs taxable value increased $544 million to $9.72 billion.
New housing developments east of Interstate 75 along Bonita Beach Road and other projects account for $214 million of the increase, compared to an increase of $339 million to Bonita’s taxable value in the 2016 tax year.
Growth is picking up in Cape Coral. Florida’s 10th largest city added almost a billion dollars in taxable property over the last year.
At 7.87 percent growth, the city went from $12 billion to just shy of $13 billion in taxable property values. Fueling that growth, in part, was $277.5 million in new construction. That’s $80 million more in construction than in 2015.
Cape Coral city planners had projected more moderate growth in values of about 5 percent and expressed excitement at the news.
“It is nice to see property values in Cape Coral continue to increase at a sustainable pace, which is good news for our residents,” City Manager John Szerlag said in a written statement. “While this increase is higher than what we estimated for budget planning, it always is better to be conservative with your revenue estimates rather than too high. I will be working with my budget staff to calibrate the proposed budget based on these tentative numbers.”
The additional growth means the city will take in about $2.2 million in more revenue than its projected budget.
Estero had the lowest percentage increase of any municipality in the county at 4.64 percent.
Even so, the preliminary reports shows the village with a $283 million increase from 2016, bumping the total taxable property in the village to $6.38 billion.
New construction of homes and businesses account for more than half of the increase.
New development, the village’s location and the continued increase of people flowing into Southwest Florida all play a part in increasing property values, District 6 Councilor Nick Batos said.
“It’s a combination,” he said. “The general economy is strong, and it’s pushing up the price of housing in the area. It’s a desirable area. A number of cities near us are recognized in the top 10 in the state as far as increases in population.”
Fort Myers Beach
Total taxable value at Fort Myers Beach increased 4.84 percent, to $3.2 billion, an increase of about $150 million compared to the previous year. Town officials said late Tuesday afternoon that they had not seen the letters that Wilkinson’s office sent out with the property.
Property values increased for the fifth straight year in Fort Myers. By percentage, the Fort Myers tax base grew more than any other municipality in the county
Estimated taxable property values increased by 8.1 percent. That translates to $443.5 million in increased taxable property values. A big factor was $237.8 million in new construction. All told, city taxable values have jumped from about $5.5 billion to $5.9 billion in taxable value.
City Manager Saeed Kazemi said the additional revenue the added taxable value could provide at the current tax rate would be put to good use.
“We are excited to see a fifth straight year of growth in taxable property values,” Kazemi said in a written statement. “It will create additional revenue to continue improving the City’s infrastructure, public safety, and neighborhood stabilization.”
The city of Sanibel, which has the lowest property tax base in the county, had values increase by 5.87 percent.
Total taxable property values in the city is just over $5 billion, a 5.87 percent over last year.
The biggest increase in taxable revenue in the county came to a unit of government that can’t use it.
In the Lehigh Acres fire district, the taxable value of real estate increased by nearly 10 percent.
But the increase doesn’t matter, because the Lehigh fire tax is based on a per-unit assessment that charges homeowners $292 per year for fire protection, The district abandoned the use of a property tax a couple of years. ago.
Lehigh Fire Control Chief Robert Dilallo said he took a look at what it would have meant if the district was still raising its funds through a property tax.
“When those numbers came in, the first thing I did was run the numbers at 3 mils,” he said. “We would still be in a $3 million deficit.”
Fire district property tax rates are capped at $3 per thousand dollars valuation.
Other fire districts had increases of between 3.78 percent, in Captiva to 9.4 percent for San Carlos.