The Hometown News is running a series of candidate profiles for the November election and posed the basic same three questions to all candidates in each race. Each candidate was asked to abide as closely as possible to a 150-word limit for all three questions.

Incumbent Michelle Franklin

St. Lucie County has one of the highest – if not the highest – aggregate ad valorem tax rates in the state. As far as the particular area of influence in the elected position you seek, what suggestions would you offer to help reduce the tax burden on your constituents?

As Property Appraiser, my area of influence, dictated by the Florida Department of Revenue, does not have any authority over tax rates. However, my commitment to property owners is to ensure that they receive every exemption to which they are entitled, which lightens their tax burden. My personal mission is to provide education to all real estate professionals and property owners relating to the components of the transactions which affect value. Under my leadership, the office will continue to operate with a private sector approach to operations while continuing to provide superior service and ending each year under budget.   

What do you view as a weakness on the current board or in the office you seek, and how would you work to improve that area?

Cyber threats continue to target government entities. Continual enhancement of security measures is necessary to protect property owners' personal and business data. Additionally, succession planning is an important issue, as over 10 percent of the office professionals are eligible for retirement. Implementation and complete follow-through of a knowledge transfer plan is vital to the future success of this office.

What professional strengths would you bring to the position that you believe make you the best candidate?

The professional strength that I bring to the position is experience. During my 12-year tenure in the Property Appraiser’s Office, I had an opportunity to be mentored by two well-respected constitutional officers. While their perspectives differed greatly, their knowledge and insight provided me with a solid foundation of ethics and service. My passion for accuracy, public service and innovation prompted me to run in 2016. I remain committed to these principles today and look forward to achieving even more over the next four years.

Challenger Ghazanfar Saeed

St. Lucie County has one of the highest – if not the highest – aggregate ad valorem tax rates in the state. As far as the particular area of influence in the elected position you seek, what suggestions would you offer to help reduce the tax burden on your constituents?

At present, all homeowners are paying the state’s highest property taxes and renters are bearing the brunt by paying high rents. I will introduce very fair taxable values for all homeowners instead of inflating the taxable values by linking them to high-end sales in the same neighborhood where the seller has done all upgrades to fetch a greater profit. I will broaden the tax base by introducing incentives for first-time homebuyers.

What do you view as a weakness on the current board or in the office you seek, and how would you work to improve that area?

The current property appraiser has raised taxes 35 percent in the last four years during her first term. If we give her another chance, she will peak these to 70 percent, triggering property tax delinquency for many fixed-income owners resulting in them losing their homes in tax certificates sales. She will make St. Lucie a ghost county, with the remaining owners paying double the property tax to shoulder the burden. New home buyers will stay from SLC due to skyrocketing property taxes, and the local real estate market stagnate compared to neighboring counties. 

What professional strengths would you bring to the position that you believe make you the best candidate?

I am a successful businessman, investor and think-out-of-the-box type who will work diligently to win the hearts of all residents with empathy and compassion. I have vision and will employ a farsighted approach to make the county viable by broadening the tax base with a record level of home ownership instead of milking the existing residents to eye-popping taxation levels. I will run the Property Appraiser’s Office with an open-door policy for all homeowners and will set fair taxable property values to satisfy all homeowners.

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