INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Indian River County Property Appraiser Wesley Davis has just completed his preliminary estimates of property values for the year, and he is very happy.
“If you purchased property in Indian River County before the crash, you have survived the bubble,” Mr. Davis said. “Residential properties in Indian River County have now officially rebounded and have reached and exceeded pre-crash values.”
Wesley Davis was appointed property appraiser by then Governor Rick Scott to replace long time appraiser David Nolte in 2019. He was then reelected unopposed in 2020.
In a conversation with Hometown News, Mr. Davis acknowledged that, for many people, the good news is simply that they avoided disaster, no longer having to worry that they can never recoup their long term investment.
“It depends on their individual situation,” Mr. Davis said. “The good news is that in the event that somebody wants to or needs to relocate closer to family somewhere else, they have the opportunity to sell their property without having to bring cash to closing. They’re able to pay off any mortgages, and they’re actually able to realize some equity and utilize that. So, from that standpoint, we are now where we have not been for the past 14 years. Ultimately you’d like to buy low and sell high, but for so long people bought high and sold low.”
All five municipalities and the county experienced growth in values.
“The greatest increase in value was in Sebastian,” Mr. Davis said. “Fellsmere also showed substantial advances in residential property.”
The property appraiser shared with Hometown News the taxable value estimate letters he sent to the cities and county. Each letter referred to a different fund, so valuations changed depending on which fund the appraiser was referring to.
“Indian River Shores, for example, has their own fire department, so they don’t pay for the fire trucks in Indian River County,” Mr. Davis said. “The general fund pays for things like the jail, and everybody pays. The school board has the highest dollar values, because the boundaries for that is basically everything inside the county borders.”
For Fellsmere, the 2021 taxable value is estimated at $121,000,000.
For Indian River Shores, the taxable value is estimated at $3,576,900,000.
For Orchid, the value is estimated at $466,745,000.
For Sebastian, the value is estimated at $1,564,900,000.
For Vero Beach, the value is estimated at $3,310,600,000.
For Indian River County EMS, the 2021 taxable value is estimated at $16,685,000,000.
For Indian River County General Fund, the value is estimated at $20,262,000,000.
For Indian River County MSTU, the value is estimated at $11,213,600,000.
For the Indian River County School Board, the value is estimated at $21,676,800,000.
For the Florida Inland Navigation District, the value is estimated at $20,302,000,000.
For the Indian River Memorial Hospital District, the value is estimated at $20,300,000,000.
For Indian River Mosquito Control, the value is estimated at $20,254,900,000.
For the Sebastian Inlet District, the value is estimated at $5,553,600,000.
For the St. John’s Water Management District, the value is estimated at $20,302,000,000.
Each jurisdiction, city, county, and special district will produce a budget and set taxes after holding public hearings in September. Most base their initial budgets on the property appraiser’s initial estimates. Final estimates are set to be completed in the coming weeks.
“It should be noted that these are the estimates that cover the period of the COVID pandemic,” Mr. Davis said. “We have come a long way together to defeat this once in a lifetime health crisis.”
“The reports I ran indicated that it wasn’t until the last quarter of last year, November and December, that’s when we started to really see things happen. There was a good real estate market up until COVID hit. In the middle of March, the world shut down for three months, and things like open houses were frowned upon. There was a hiccup in there until about June.”
“By the time October set in, and people had been shut down for six months in some places, fortunately in Florida it was only about three months, I feel like that had an effect, when people realized that Florida was opening back up for business while other states were still closed. I attribute that to the governor saying we’re going to open schools up in September. Does that mean that COVID is causing this? I’ll let people draw their own conclusion. We can also say that low interest rates are causing this.”
“Now, in our own community, people can sell their house for about the same price they bought it for 15 years ago. That gives people the ability to downsize, to right size.”
Mr. Davis also cheered Florida’s “Save Our Homes” cap on taxable values.
“Thanks to the cap known as ‘Save Our Homes,’ most Indian River property owners have been protected from over $4 billion in increased taxable values. Save Our Homes is a Florida provision that caps taxable value increases to 3% or the consumer price index, whichever is lowest. This year’s maximum rate is 1.4%. In other words, Indian River taxable values have gone up but $4 billion of the increase will not be subject to taxation. This includes approximately 45,500 parcels receiving homestead exemption and Save Our Homes protection.”
Mr. Davis disagreed with the criticism that “Save Our Homes” provided much more benefit to people with very expensive homes, while providing very little benefit to people who live in poorer areas.
“If you have the homestead, you have the two $25,000 exemptions. So you’re getting that $50,000 knocked off your assessment whether it’s a million dollar home or a $60,000 home. So (those with the less expensive homes) are getting a benefit. It’s not the same dollar amount as someone with a million dollar home, everybody understands that.”
He also disagreed with the idea that capping taxable value increases has the unfortunate effect of starving the county coffers of funds that the county might need during economic downturns, or when dealing with a pandemic.
“With all the CARES Act dollars that’s been thrown at every municipality,” Mr. Davis said, “Indian River County right now has money that they don’t know what to do with.”