Lee County property values continue to increase
Southwest Florida's recession is barely visible in the rear view mirror: Lee County's property values keep soaring.
Estimated property values for 2015 show increases all over the county, according to numbers released Friday by the county's property appraiser.
The results are similar to Collier County's numbers, which were released Wednesday.
Every area – cities, unincorporated areas and fire districts – experienced an increase in values, and that trend continues to be the norm, Lee County Property Appraiser Ken Wilkinson said.
"Those that spend it have more to spend, and that usually makes people happy," Wilkinson said. "I think we're in good shape."
The numbers are preliminary estimates, generated to help local governments and taxing authorities plan their fiscal year 2016 budgets. Final numbers have to been in by July 1.
Wilkinson said he expects property values to continue rising for the foreseeable future.
Across the county, the taxable value for 2015 is expected to increase 5.5 percent from last year's appraisals.
This represents an increase of about $3.2 billion from about $58.3 billion in 2014 to $61.5 billion in estimated taxable value for 2015.
This is the third straight year Lee County has seen increases in property values after several years of clawing its way out of the recession.
At the height of the market in 2007, the county's taxable value was $96.5 billion, and by 2011, that number was nearly cut in half to $53.3 billion. The decline forced governments to slash budgets.
"But we've weathered the storm," Wilkinson said.
— Cody Dulaney
Lee County's estimated 5.5 percent increase in taxable value for 2015 represents a steady trend over the past three years: 5.4 percent in 2014 and 3.2 percent in 2013.
"It's obviously good news," County Manager Roger Desjarlais said. "It means the economy has continued to recover; we have seen lots of evidence."
But it's about a half-percent lower than what the county budgeted for.
County officials anticipated a 6 percent increase, but a new program used to pay for road projects, called growth increment funding, is expected to cover the remaining half-percent officials were betting on, Desjarlais said.
Growth increment funding, which will come up for a vote Tuesday, captures the difference in increased taxable value for every real estate transaction in the first year. If applied to this year, it would have generated $7.8 million in revenue to be added to the following year's budget.
But whether the county is a half-percent shy or not, the increase in taxable value is good news for everyone.
"We're financially in really good shape right now," Commissioner Larry Kiker said, "but we have a lot of catching up to do."
Kiker said the county has been prioritizing projects and programs that were put on hold for several years, and the increase will allow them to be funded.
Projects that improve transportation and roadways have been pushed to the forefront, as well as maintaining county vehicles, Kiker said. The sheriff's office has patrol cars with 200,000 miles or more.
Commissioners will be looking over a budget of $1.3 billion at Tuesday's budget workshop, where officials will have a better idea of revenues generated from the increase.
Schools in unincorporated Lee are also expected to see an increase to the tune of 5.2 percent.
Ami Desamours, school district assistant superintendent for business and finance, said the district was anticipating only a 5 percent increase, which gives it more financial elbow room.
She said part of the increase in revenues will help pay for the new high school slated for Bonita Springs.
— Cody Dulaney
Cape Coral is expected to see a 6 percent increase in taxable value, that's $620 million over last year's numbers. While not as high compared to other cities, City Manager John Szerlag said the rise is good for the city.
"We are very happy to have an increase in values," Szerlag said.
Cape Coral adopts a three-year budget, Szerlag said. There's an $80,000 shortfall that he believes will be plugged once the final report is released.
"That's a pretty close estimate," Szerlag said.
"This is good news for us and this is good news for property owners," Szerlag added.
— Melissa Montoya
Fort Myers is expected to see one of the highest increases in the county with an estimated 7.7 percent increase in taxable value.
That represents a $350 million rise in the city's tax base, according to the report.
But Mayor Randy Henderson said he isn't surprised by the numbers.
"It's clearly been trending that way," Henderson said. "Houses have been flying off the shelf."
Real Estate 101 preaches the importance of "location, location, location," Henderson said, and people are starting to see that Fort Myers is the focal point of the county.
An adequate demand for houses priced just right has caused the market to respond accordingly, he said.
The city planned for a 5 percent increase in taxable value, said Christine Tenney, the city's budget manager.
Based on the estimated 7.7 percent increase , the city can anticipate an increase of $2.7 million in revenues, Tenney said. The revenue is based on the current tax rate of 8.77 for every $1,000 of taxable value.
When officials sit down in the next few weeks to review the city's $299 million budget, the expected increase will allow them to focus on new and improved infrastructure, as well as entertain the discussion of employee raises, Henderson said.
— Cody Dulaney
The city of Sanibel's preliminary 2015 total taxable value of $4.4 billion is 3.31 percent higher than the 2014 final of $4.3 billion. It's the smallest estimated increase for any Lee County municipality.
Mayor Kevin Ruane – who's no relation to this reporter – isn't surprised. He likened buying Sanibel property to investing in a blue-chip stock.
"This is probably indicative that we didn't have the (property value) decreases and volatility the other areas had during the downturn," Ruane said.
It also came as no surprise that the 2015 estimate for taxable new construction is lower – by more than $2 million – than for 2014.
The island city is close to build-out. Ruane estimated there could be as few as 100 buildable lots remaining.
The mayor cautioned against putting too much stock in a preliminary estimate. Sanibel previously has seen significant percentage increases in valuations between the preliminary and final reports, he said.
"We obviously don't make budgets based on the preliminary numbers," he said.
— Laura Ruane
FORT MYERS BEACH
The town of Fort Myers Beach, with an estimated $2.8 billion total taxable property value for 2015, isn't close to its high of nearly $4 billion in the 2007-2008 fiscal year.
However, the 5.68 percent increase over the final numbers in 2014 suggests "we're on an upswing," said Mayor Anita Cereceda.
She thinks values "are coming back to a more stable range, even with the redevelopment we are having."
Increased property values won't deter Cereceda from asking the town council Monday to increase the tax rate from 76 cents per $1,000 of taxable value to $1.06. The latter rate was charged after the town first incorporated, some 20 years ago.
If the estimated value increase held true, Cereceda estimated the tax bill on a $300,000 home would rise by about $100.
"To the average homeowner, that $100 is insignificant," Cereceda said.
But to the town, Cereceda said, "that equals security, a stronger infrastructure, reserves and the ability to provide a level of service this community demands."
— Laura Ruane
Bonita Springs experienced one of the highest jumps in estimated value of all the taxing districts in the county.
The 7.34 percent increase from $7.6 billion in taxable value in 2014 to $8.2 billion in 2015—a jump of $558.6 million—represents about what the city was expecting . It also marks a return to normal for the city's property values as the housing market returns to pre-recession form.
"Before the recession, we could figure on a 7 percent increase annually, so it's not surprising based on how good the economy appears to be and the strength of the housing market," said Mayor Ben Nelson.
New construction led the way for the boost in values. Bonita's new construction values are the highest in the county at $201.5 million in taxable value, a jump of $77.4 million over 2014.
The increase in property values should help the city as it prepares its budget this fall. Unlike Lee, Bonita didn't slash its impact fees during the recession, but the city still has a number of infrastructure projects in the works, Nelson said.
The City Council is expected to set its tax rate this summer and then move forward with a 2015-2015 budget later in the year.
— Steve Doane
The newly formed village of Estero is in a unique position with its estimated property values.
The city didn't exist for the last assessment, so its estimated $5.6 billion in taxable value is up 100 percent from 2014, according to the estimates. Of course, the actual amounts are much more gradual, but they're hard to pin down.
The closest approximation would probably be the Estero Fire District, which covers most of the village, with some exceptions. The district experienced a 9 percent increase in taxable value from $5.4 billion to $5.9 billion.
The Estero Village Council estimated about $5.4 billion in value during its budget discussions earlier this month for the remainder of the 2015 fiscal year. The village will start discussions on its upcoming budget in the coming weeks, with several details still to hammer out.
"Our estimates are very similar to these estimates and as we work on our 2015-2016 budgets it gives us more cushion," said Estero Vice Mayor Howard Levitan.
Unlike other municipalities, Estero is working to establish a baseline budget and hammer out expenses, including the cost of services from the county.
"We projected a $3 million annual surplus, but that could change now that we're getting to look at the numbers more carefully," said Mayor Nick Batos.
— Steve Doane
All 17 of Lee County's fire districts were winners, but the three most southern — San Carlos, Estero and Bonita Springs — were the biggest winners. Estero had the largest increase, 9.1 percent, followed by Bonita Springs at 6.8 percent and San Carlos at 5.75 percent.
Estero fire Chief Scott Vanderbrook said he's glad to have more money but doesn't know how much he'll net.
"The property values go up, but there's a cost to that," he said. "There's more people to protect ... There's a cost associated with maintaining the level of service we have."
For example, he said, the department pays out about $150,000 a year to personnel for working overtime hours, mostly during tourist season.
He said there are plans to use the money this year to buy a ladder truck, which has a price tag of about $900,000. It would be the fourth new firetruck the department has purchased in the last couple of years.
"It's all coming due at the same time," he said of the old equipment.
Some of the smaller districts that saw large property value declines during the recession saw values come back. Alva, Bayshore and Tice saw values increase, even if they were some of the smaller ones in the county.
Lehigh Acres Fire District saw a nearly 7 percent increase in property values, but it won't matter because voters last year agreed to pay a $300 annual assessment fee in lieu of using property taxes.
"We couldn't survive on it anymore," said Lehigh Acres Chief John Wayne.
— Ben Brasch
There was about $996.2 million worth of new construction countywide on the property appraiser's books as of Jan. 1, 2015, a 31 percent increase over $760.1 million the year before.
But the amount of taxable new construction rose at an even faster pace: a 44 percent increase from $690.6 million to $935.3 million.
Those big jumps, much more than the overall increases in property value, reflected both a resurgent new-home market and a return of major commercial projects to the county as the real estate bust that started in 2006 started to ease over the past three years.
For example, county Department of Community Development statistics show that builders pulled 993 single-family-home permits collectively valued at $250.6 million, 29 percent up from the 860 permits valued at $194.8 million pulled in 2013.
The increase from 2012 to 2013 was even more striking: a 54 percent increase from 2012's 556 new homes worth $126.6 million.
The permits don't directly correspond to the property appraiser's assigned values of the finished product, but do show an underlying trend of increased construction.
The same was true of commercial projects, although the big increases kicked in a year later than the residential ones.
In 2013, the unincorporated county saw $56.5 million in general commercial structure permits – only 86 percent of 2012's $66 million.
But commercial permits in 2014 were worth $154.5 million, up 173 percent from 2013.
The 2014 commercial permits included some of the most high-profile projects now underway in the county: $30 million for the Hertz Global Holdings headquarters and a $13.5 million Wal-Mart, both in Estero; and $150 million for the Golisano Children's Hospital addition to the HealthPark campus in south Fort Myers.
— Dick Hogan
Collier's property values increased in 2014 by the highest percentage in nearly a decade, according to estimates released Wednesday.
The county's taxable grew 8.38 percent in 2014, representing a $5.4 billion according to the estimates.
The increase represents the largest annual jump since before the recession and continues an upward trend for the county. New construction values in the county also jumped 27.34 percent, placing the value at $1.1 billion, the first time Collier's new construction has topped $1 billion since 2008.
The increase, while still below pre-recession highs, shows the upswing in the county's red hot housing market adds further evidence to the pace of economic recovery in Collier.
The jump in taxable value will add millions to the county's budget if the Collier commissioners do not change the property tax rate. The county's property tax rate has remained at $3.56 for every $1,000 of taxable value for six straight years.
The additional funds could help officials replace and update older equipment and infrastructure, which was deferred during the recession. Last year the county allotted $8.5 million to repair and replace the estimated $50 million backlog.