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CRACKDOWN COMING ON ESCAMBIA HOMESTEAD VIOLATORS

Andrew McKay 02/28/20

Escambia Property Appraiser Chris Jones is working with Tax Collector Scott Lunsford and local governments to implement an aggressive new plan to find homestead exemption violators and collect their overdue tax bills.  Under the former system, Jones had 2.5 full time employees working on finding fraudulent homestead claims.  In any given year, Jones says they would recoup $300-400,000 for the County.  Under this new system, he conservatively estimates that this amount could double or more.

Over the past few months, Jones has been securing memoranda of understanding with the various entities who receive tax money such as the Town of Century, Escambia County, and the Escambia County School District.  Last night, the Pensacola City Council approved the proposal, and the only entity remaining to agree is the Northwest Florida Water District, but they are expected to do so.  The reason these entities need to agree is because the new service will pay the vendor a 28% finders fee on all new revenue generated, meaning they as the recipients will receive less than their full entitlement based on the expectation of more total being recovered.

Former system:

1.  When a violation is found, Jones sends out a tax bill for the difference between the (inappropriate) homestead tax paid and the (proper) non-homestead tax owed.
2.  If the bill does not get paid, it eventually leads to a tax certificate sale of the property

New system:
1.  When a violation is found, Jones will send a 30 day notice that a lien will be placed on the property.
2.  Using the lien system rather than the tax receipt system will allow his office to apply a 50% penalty, a 15% per year interest charge, and go back up to 10 years in enforcement.
3.  A private company is being hired to use their digital resources to more effectively survey homestead claims to identify violators in ways his employees are not equipped to do, and they receive a 28% finder’s fee on all new money recovered

Jones says the typical response rate in other areas that have adopted this approach is to receive 40% immediate payment and roughly 60% eventual or over-time payment.  Jones also says there is no formal amnesty plan in place for people who want to voluntarily admit they have been underpaying, but he promises that he will work with anyone who comes to his office.

In addition, Jones says the deadline for homestead filings is Monday, March 2, and his office be open this Saturday for customers.

Full interview here:  http://podcast.newsradio1620.com/post/6267/Chris_Jones_-_Escambia_County_Property_Appraiser.html

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