Hurricane damage brings tax breaks for some

Shirley Lynn and husband David Magee's home was badly damaged when Hurricane Frances sent a 30-foot, 6,400-pound section of a water oak through the roof and east wall of their house Sept. 5. Repairs to the couple's home in the Duck Pond neighborhood are now 53 percent completed, but they still cannot live in it.

DOUG FINGER/The Gainesville Sun
Published: Saturday, January 8, 2005 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Saturday, January 8, 2005 at 12:09 a.m.
For many people, houses are just the shells encasing the precious things of their lives.
Photos of grandma. A table crafted by a favorite uncle. China passed down through generations.
But for Shirley Lynn, her Duck Pond home itself is the object of sentiment. It was entrusted to her by her mom, who was mostly a single mother who scraped her way to ownership of the red brick house dollar by dollar in the 1950s.
When an oak crashed through a wall and the roof during Hurricane Frances, Lynn was emotionally crushed, even though no treasures inside were lost.
It will be April before Lynn and her husband, David Magee, can return to the house. But one positive aspect of the lengthy disruption is that it likely will entitle them to some property tax breaks.
Property Appraiser Ed Crapo said property values will be lowered for some homes that are still damaged. That will result in lower taxes next year.
Also, a state program will give tax breaks to homeowners who were displaced at least 60 days.
Folks like Lynn and Magee appear to be prime candidates for both.
"We check on the house two or three times a week. Going in and seeing things in that kind of disarray was an emotional thing for us, knowing that my mom left it for me to take care of," Lynn said. "Insurance is covering what we need to be done for the house. If we get tax breaks on top of that, we can use it for things insurance will not cover, like landscaping. Anything extra we get would be a big help."
Crapo said appraisers have been visiting damaged homes to learn which have been completely repaired.
The tax value of those that are not may be appraised downward depending on factors such as the extent of the damage.
"Jan. 1 was our appraisal date, so we were identifying those properties that still have damage so that we can reflect that in the appraisal," Crapo said. "Their home should be less valuable if it was damaged, so we should do something."
That is not the only tax break to which storm-frazzled homeowners may be entitled. Florida residents with homestead exemptions whose houses were uninhabitable for at least 60 days are eligible for a tax break from the state.
The breaks from the county and the state will be temporary, but homeowners said one or both would be welcome nonetheless.
Among them is Joelle Herr, whose Spring Forest home was lashed by falling trees, many of which are still decaying in the yard.
"I hope I can get the tax relief," Herr said. "It will probably be a year before I get everything done."
Hundreds of structures damaged Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne damaged more than 658 homes and businesses in Alachua County when they hit in September, Chief Deputy Property Appraiser Rob Puckett said.
Of those, 393 have been repaired, 204 are still damaged to varying degrees and 37 homes remain uninhabitable, Puckett said. Another 24 were inaccessible to appraisers.
Puckett said the property value reduction for the 37 uninhabitable homes is more than $1.7 million. In some cases, the value of an uninhabitable home may be lowered as much as 50 percent.
Evaluations are also being done on houses that are lived in even though repairs have not been completed. The value of the property could be lowered depending on how appraisers evaluate the damage.
"You could have superficial damage and it not make much difference. Or you can have something that came down and broke the rafters on the roof so you need to completely reroof. That's a whole other question," Crapo said. "The people in the field doing the inspections are well enough schooled that they will be able to make some pretty good judgments."
Herr and others with damaged homes face a common plight - too few building and roofing contractors to do the work.
Angela Bryans, vice president and co-owner of A Bartlett Roofing Inc., said contractors throughout Gainesville are unable to get to customers quickly because of the workload.
Materials and qualified workers are sometimes in short supply, she added.
Bryans is a director with the Florida Roofing, Sheet Metal and Air Conditioning Contractors Association and said the problem is severe statewide.
"We are booked until June. We still get at least one or two calls a week from people who are just now getting trees removed from their houses," Bryans said. "I read that it might take 10 years to get everything fixed in Pensacola. This is not a good time to be in Florida."
Help comes from the state Some of the information gathered by Crapo's office will be used for homeowners applying for the state tax break.
The state will require applicants to provide evidence of the damage. That can include records from the property appraiser, city or county code departments, insurance or contractors.
Legislators approved the tax relief in their special session late last year. The break is essentially a reimbursement of a portion of the property tax.
The chief sponsor of the bill, Sen. Jeff Atwater, R-North Palm Beach, estimates the average benefit will be $500. The aid is capped at $1,500 per homeowner.
Applications must be made with the Property Appraiser's Office by March 1.
Lynn and Magee probably will not be back in their house by then. A wall of brick on the side of the house crumbled under the oak. The roof bore the brunt and was badly damaged.
Both, however, are in a positive frame of mind awaiting the day when they can go home.
"It was a beautiful house, and it will be beautiful again," Magee said. "As far as tax breaks, it will be nice if it happens. If it doesn't, you just keep moving right on. You just keep going."
Cindy Swirko can be reached at (352) 374-5024 or

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