January 25, 2007

Appraiser Dispute Crosses County Line: Broward Official Blasts Nikolits for `Unreasonably High’ Assessments

By Josh Hafenbrack, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

Jan. 25--Broward County Property Appraiser Lori Parrish waded into a Palm Beach County political war on Wednesday, blasting her counterpart Gary Nikolits for misapplying state law and sticking taxpayers with "unreasonably high" property values.

Parrish was responding to a scathing letter Nikolits wrote to Palm Beach County commissioners Monday, which branded commissioners as corrupt and challenged Broward County appraisal methods as unconstitutional.

Nikolits' statements, Parrish wrote, are a "way of deflecting attention away from the antagonistic views you have towards Palm Beach County's taxpayers."

"Rather than spending your time writing angry letters filled with misstatements of law and fact about my office, you could better spend your time re-reading ... Florida Statutes to understand why some of your assessments seem so unreasonably high," she said.

In the months-long political feud between Nikolits and county commissioners over the hot-button property tax issue, Parrish's name frequently has been invoked. That's because her approach to assessing properties differs in key respects from Nikolits'. She does not place the same emphasis on a "highest and best use" standard that drives up valuations of commercial properties, particularly those near the condo-cluttered waterfront.

In an interview Wednesday, Nikolits defended his approach, saying Parrish uses methods that create "a below-market assessment, and that's unconstitutional."

But Parrish fired back that Nikolits is basing property values on a hypothetical future use of the land, which she said is to "blatantly distort and misapply the law."

"I do my job correctly and constitutionally because I've actually read the applicable statutes," she wrote to Nikolits. "You clearly have not done so."

The contretemps started Monday, when Nikolits sent a four-page missive to County Attorney Denise Nieman that accused commissioners of raising the assessment issue as a "perverted attempt to divert attention away from the culture of corruption that seems to permeate" their offices, referring to the Tony Masilotti corruption scandal.

In that same letter, Nikolits took Parrish to task. He noted she is a former Broward County commissioner and said she has never appraised a property.

Applying the "highest and best use" standard, Nikolits argues, is the only way to come up with the true market value and to ensure all properties are assessed fairly.

"Instead of insisting the state force the Broward Property Appraiser to do her job correctly, [commissioners] want me and my 65 other peers to disregard the laws and appraise Broward's way," Nikolits wrote in his letter. "That makes no sense.

"Unlike some county commissioners, I take seriously my oath of office to abide by and uphold the laws of the state of Florida. I will not lower my standards to match theirs."

Parrish was a four-term county commissioner before becoming Broward's property appraiser two years ago.

Parrish called Nikolits part of the "old guard" of property appraisers. She said she tells groups from Palm Beach County, "You don't need to change the state law -- you need to change your property appraiser."

Thankful for a new ally, Palm Beach County commissioners hailed Parrish's intervention.

"I think Gary has been not following the rules of law the way Lori Parrish describes it," Commissioner Burt Aaronson said. "I think he's obstinate enough not to even want to go ahead and discuss it in a proper manner. The fact is, I think the taxpayers in Palm Beach County have been assessed too much by our property appraiser."

Josh Hafenbrack can be reached at [email protected] or 561-228-5508.


Copyright (c) 2007, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

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