by Max Marbut
Jim Overton has been Duval County’s Property Appraiser since 2003. Each day, he and his staff oversee a process that began in Florida on or shortly after Nov. 16, 1824. That’s when the first contract was issued to Deputy Surveyor Benjamin Clemens who then marked off the state’s “principal meridian” and a portion of the base parallel.
“It’s in Tallahassee and it’s what we call the ‘zero-zero point.’ It’s where all surveys in Florida start,” said Overton.
There are 345,000 parcels of land in Duval County and the Property Appraiser’s Office is responsible for maintaining accurate maps of each parcel’s location.
“We also read every deed that’s recorded at the Courthouse and make sure the legal description matches the cadastral map,” said Overton. Unlike more conventional topographic maps, cadastral maps are designed for maximum accuracy in terms of legal property descriptions.
“No office knows more about every square inch of the surface of Duval County than we do,” said Overton, referring to his staff of 180 who do everything from in-person appraisals to drawing new digital maps that are replacing the older printed documents used by property appraisers for decades. The new maps are prepared from aerial photographs that are updated annually, said Overton.
Since he took office six years ago, Overton has watched the real estate market go up and he’s watched the bubble burst. With preliminary tax bills going out in August, what does he predict for this year’s property taxes?
“If a property doesn’t have a homestead exemption, its assessment this year is limited to 110 percent of last year’s assessment,” said Overton. “If you bought property recently and have a homestead exemption, your assessment will either be the same as last year or could even go down slightly. But property owners need to realize that because there has been a decrease in the market value of the property that won’t lower their assessment. I expect I’ll have to explain that to a lot of people.”
Quite a few people protested their assessment last year and Overton said he expects 2009 to be no different because, “Property tax is the only tax that is based on somebody’s opinion.”