Appraisers Can Reassess Local Property Values After Oil Spill

July 22, 2010

A day after a special session collapsed with no action on oil-drilling, Gov. Charlie Crist signed an executive order Wednesday aimed at allowing Gulf coast property owners to make damage claims to BP.

Crist’s order allows property appraisers in the 26 Florida counties covered by the current state of emergency to perform interim assessments, giving owners of businesses, homes and condos the documentation they may need to submit a claim to BP for lost value.

“The businesses and families of the Gulf coast did nothing to warrant this loss, but they bear the burden of it,” Crist said.

Crist noted that he’s been contacted by several property appraisers seeking authority to reevaluate property last formally assessed Jan. 1 – three months before the Deepwater Horizon explosion occurred, fouling the Gulf and leading to a sharp economic decline along the coast.

BP has set up a $20 billion compensation fund to settle legitimate claims. For now, most seeking damages from the company are businesses and workers who have lost profits and earning ability, absorbed some oil removal costs, suffered property damage or have experienced the tougher-to-gauge “loss of a natural resource.”

Escambia County Property Appraiser Chris Jones and his Santa Rosa County counterpart, Gregory Brown, wrote Crist in early June urging that he advance some kind of tax-relief plan. They said that while property owners are likely to endure a loss in value because of the spill, tax payments this fall will be based on assessments that were in place pre-spill, at the start of 2010.

Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, the presumptive Democratic nominee for governor, pushed Crist to endorse a tax reduction plan soon after. But the issue has generally languished, with Crist not including any spill-related issues in this week’s special session other than a proposed constitutional amendment to prohibit oil-drilling in Florida waters – a measure that failed to be taken up by lawmakers.

Jones, the Escambia property appraiser, said Tuesday that he expected coastal homeowners and business owners to be angry when tax notices are mailed out in August. He said that motels and vacation rental properties in his county are experiencing business losses of as much as 50 percent because of the spill.

Jones’s recommendation: “Put BP on the hook for that.”

Crist, now apparently agrees.

“I have not asked BP’s permission to do this,” Crist said Wednesday.

BP spokeswoman Paula Barnett, when reached by the News Service, said the company was unaware of the governor’s executive order and had no immediate reaction. BP has paid $201 million to residents and businesses of the Gulf Coast on claims related to the spill.

According to the company, the largest groups include fishermen, who have received $32 million and shrimpers, who have received $18 million. Another $77 million has been paid for a loss of income for occupations including deckhands, seafood processors, and other Gulf businesses.

More than 114,000 claims had been submitted by mid-July, although BP said that more than 61,000 claims lack enough information for the company to make a payment. Under Crist’s executive order, Florida homeowners and businesses would take their place among those filing claims.

Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, chairman of the Senate’s Select Committee on Florida’s Economy, said he was surprised by Crist’s action – coming so quickly on the heels of a special session that the governor wanted confined solely to the drill-ban. He said he was also concerned about directing more Floridians into “the vortex of the BP claims process.”

“But maybe this is one idea we can improve on,” Gaetz said, looking ahead to what legislative leaders say will be a September special session on a host of spill-related issues. “I don’t want to sound negative about this. But we may need more guidance. We do have constitutional issues in Florida about tax equity and the assessing of property based on similar purposes. We don’t want to do anything that might kick these claims into the courts.”

Gaetz added, “But I’m grateful that the governor has gotten the sleep out of his eyes on this and is willing to address the pain and suffering that people along the Gulf Coast are feeling.”

Gaetz and Crist separately also said they didn’t consider the interim assessments as interfering with other potential steps. Still in play are discussions about providing direct payments to property-owners – similar to the $1,500 property-tax reimbursements made in 2007 to Central Florida residents whose homes were destroyed or heavily damaged by tornadoes.

Property tax relief has been distributed five times since 1985 following hurricanes, wildfires and tornadoes in Florida, according to the state’s Revenue Department.


2 Responses to “Appraisers Can Reassess Local Property Values After Oil Spill”

  1. SLB on July 24th, 2010 10:46 am

    I totally agree with you Escambia County citizen…and their break is with pay too!

    I’m sure they aren’t too worried about the un-employed who don’t have adequate food to feed thier families or having to sit in a home with no electricity at 90 plus degree weather because they (State Representatives) needed a break. L.ike they work so hard sitting in a fancy chair pushing buttons and/or speaking if they choose too.

    A emergency meeting is definitely needed and these representatives need to stop behaving like spoiled ignorant children. Grow up and do your jobs and be thankful you have a job!

  2. escambia county citizen on July 22nd, 2010 9:46 pm

    I guess everything is going to be put on hold til September as far as our State representatives are concerned. What a time to take a break when our State is in one of the biggest crisis for years in Florida. Here we are, the oil spill has caused a tremendous lost to people & businesses which need your help. On top of all that, TODAY extended unemployment bill was passed by the house and signed by the president and florida is the ONLY STATE that will not be receiving their benefits until September because you need a break. All other states will began next week. SHAME ON OUR REPRESENTATIVES. 240,000 unemployed worker in the state of Florida by NO FAULT of their own are staying awake at night wondering how to pay for food and utilities while you are on break!!!!!! The people will not forget this when election time comes. Someone needs to step up and call an emergency meeting!!!

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