Countywide property values projected to decline by 3.5 percent


Published: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 6:18 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 1, 2011 at 11:23 p.m.

While Alachua County once again will not see the double-digit drop in property values that became commonplace in other areas of the state during the economic downturn, countywide taxable values will decline for the fourth straight year.

Estimates that the Alachua County Property Appraiser sent to local governments Tuesday have taxable property values declining 3.5 percent for county government's general fund and 3.3 percent for the school district's tax base.

The taxable property value in Gainesville is estimated to decline by 3.8 percent.

For other municipalities, changes in values varied more dramatically.

Newberry will see the county's only increase in value — a spike of nearly 18 percent. Property Appraiser Ed Crapo attributed it to an expansion at the Florida Rock Industries plant.

On the other end of the spectrum, the small northeastern county town of LaCrosse, which has very little commercial development, will see an estimated decline of more than 10 percent.

The cities of Alachua (8.2 percent), High Springs (6.3 percent) and Hawthorne (6.2 percent) also are projected to have declines significant for Alachua County, where taxable values traditionally have not had dramatic spikes or drops.

The numbers do not compare with prior years in areas such as Lee County, the southwestern coastal county, which in 2009 saw a decline of more than 15 percent. Still, Crapo said, "this is going to be dramatic for Alachua County."

Keith Birkett, the school district's assistant superintendent for budget and finance, said the estimates released this week were a cause for concern because the Legislature's budget conference had projected the district's tax base to rise in value — albeit by less than half a percent.

Birkett said if that was the case for districts across Florida, there likely would not be adequate state funding to make up the gap.

For the city of High Springs, Crapo said declines in value were across the board in property categories but most significant for single-family residential properties, which saw a drop of $10.5 million.

High Springs City Commissioner Eric May said the city will see some yet-to-be-determined savings from the changes to the Florida Retirement System, which require employees to start contributing to pensions and lower employers' required contributions. But he doubted the savings would offset the decline in property values.

"We're basically going to be faced with either further layoffs or raising the millage rate," May said.

Alachua County Budget Director Suzanne Gable said the county had projected declines in the range of 3 percent for most of its taxing units, and the values would decline slightly more than that based on the numbers the Property Appraiser's Office released.

The exception, she said, was the municipal services taxing unit to fund law enforcement patrol, which includes the unincorporated county, Archer, Hawthorne and Newberry, the only city where values are projected to rise. Its projected 2.4 percent decline in taxable value was less than expected.

Gable said that while the estimated decline in values is slightly more than expected, the amount of new construction going on the rolls is above the last projection from Crapo's office.

It is now estimated to be $90 million, not the $72 million spoken of in early May. Still, it's well below the $210 million in new construction that went on the rolls last year and at least $300 million that was added each year from 2006 through 2009.

For the county's general fund, taxable values peaked at $12.8 billion in 2007. This year's estimated taxable value of $11.64 billion is the lowest since $11.2 billion in 2006.

Contact Christopher Curry at 374-5088 or chris.curry@gvillesun.com

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