The Citrus County Property Appraiser’s Office has contracted with Tax Management Associates (TMA), to audit all properties with homestead exemption in Citrus County to discover the existence of any potential homestead exemption fraud. The process started last summer when the Property Appraiser began reviewing the possibility of conducting the audit which required approval from the county’s seven taxing authorities. All seven, including the county commission, school board, cities and mosquito control board, have since given their support to proceed. The audit will commence early in 2019.
A homestead exemption, allowed by state law, permits a reduction in property taxes and is available to every Florida resident who owns and resides on real property and makes that property their permanent residence as of January 1 of the year in which the homestead exemption is granted. The homestead exemption allows up to $50,000 of the property’s assessed value to be exempted from taxation. Based on current tax rates, the $50,000 homestead exemption is worth about $600 in county taxes, almost $1,000 in Inverness taxes and $800 in Crystal River.
The Property Appraiser’s office has always investigated the validity of homestead exemptions returning thousands of dollars each year, but its research is mostly limited to local and Florida state-agency resources. The Property Appraiser chose TMA based on results achieved in other counties and the company’s analytic ability to gather data across state lines. The company also performs their initial analysis without receiving any confidential data of Citrus County taxpayers. The current working tax roll has in excess of 46,000 homes with a homestead exemption. TMA will enable a massive audit of all existing homestead exemptions. The company’s staff will handle all investigative efforts, documentation, and correspondence with residents to identify properties improperly receiving exemptions and then return defensible findings back to the Property Appraiser’s office.
TMA, which is based out of Charlotte, North Carolina, will not charge any up-front fees to research whether homestead exemptions are legitimate. Existing taxpayers will not bear any cost for this audit. Instead, the company will receive 30 percent from any back taxes and penalties paid by the property-owners discovered receiving homestead exemptions for which they were not entitled. The remaining 70 percent will go to the taxing authorities. Without discovery of these undeserved homesteads the taxing authority would receive none of these funds.
The company has already performed such audits in four other Florida counties – Brevard, Duval, Pinellas and Sarasota – and has done similar projects in five other states. TMA, through a partnership with Lexis Nexis, is able to crosscheck homeowners with other states to find out if they have exemptions elsewhere or otherwise do not qualify for a homestead exemption.
Additional Homestead Exemption information is available on our website at www.citruspa.org.