Meet the Okeechobee County property appraiser candidates

OKEECHOBEE — In the Property Appraiser race, Republicans will chosen between Russ Duncan and D. Robert Wilson. The winner of that primary will face Democrat Steve Cates as well as Sharon Wallace (NPA) and Mickey Bandi Jr., (NPA) in the general election. The Property Appraiser serves a four-year term. Annual salary is $103,928.

Mickey (Michael) Bandi Jr. (NPA)

Michael Louis ‘Mickey’ Bandi Jr. has announced that he is running for the office of property appraiser of Okeechobee County.

Mr. Bandi, 37, is currently the assistant property appraiser in the Okeechobee County office. He has worked in the local office since 2002.

Mickey Bandi

Mickey Bandi

“I was originally hired as the tangible personal property supervisor and was promoted to assistant property appraiser in 2008,” he said.

Mr. Bandi and his wife of 11 years, Lori Davis Bandi, are lifelong residents of Okeechobee County and are both graduates of Okeechobee High School. The couple has two daughters — Lillie, 7, and Lexi, 3.

After his graduation from OHS, Mr. Bandi attended the University of Florida where he received a Bachelors of Science degree in food and resources economics. His course work included: economics; accounting; finance; investing; rural property appraisal; and, human resource management.

He has also taken graduate level courses towards a Masters of Agribusiness Management.

After graduating from UF, Mr. Bandi and his wife returned home because they “… had a desire to raise our children in Okeechobee.”

As the assistant property appraiser, Mr. Bandi’s duties include managing the agriculture, mapping/Geographic Information Systems (GIS), tangible personal property, data input and field appraisal departments.

“In addition, I assist in developing long-term budgets and capital expenditures and the three- to five-year strategic plan for the office. I also work with property owners to explain the appraisal process and handle all valuation appeals,” he said.

Since 2008, Mr. Bandi has had sole responsibility within the appraiser’s office of qualifying sales, calculating and setting the base rates for the values, assessing telecommunication and utility properties and has appraised in excess of 90 percent of the neighborhoods annually.

It is also his job to ensure the tax roll is within statistical acceptance before it is submitted and to handle audits for sales qualification on commercial, industrial and residential properties.

As far as additional training he has received, Mr. Bandi has been a Certified Florida Evaluator for 11 years. He has taken annual ethics training, including records retention and the Florida Government-in-the-Sunshine Law.

“I have been asked to visit newly-elected property appraiser’s offices to offer assistance and I have had them visit our office to discuss complex properties,” he pointed out.

Mr. Bandi, who has no political party affiliation (NPA), is also a member of the 2016 Okeechobee leadership class.

If elected, he said he plans to improve transparency at the appraiser’s office.

“For example, I have placed TRIM (Truth in Millage) notices online so taxpayers can view the TRIM of any property in the county. I am working with our web site provider on a new web site that will be more mobile friendly and allow better access to the records,” he offered.

He said he also plans to use the resources of the appraiser’s office to help other county offices, such as their new aerial photography contract that allows first responders to view aerials within their software.

So, why should the voters choose you as their property appraiser?

“I have extensive knowledge of assessing commercial, residential, industrial, agriculture and telecommunication properties. I have always been fair and equitable with taxpayers and assess their properties with a value that I can explain to them, along with their neighbor or any other citizen,” Mr. Bandi said. “I will always be available to citizens to listen and discuss issues they have. I will do this in an ethical manner, with integrity and keeping Okeechobee County in mind.”


Steve Cates (DEM)

William Steve Cates is the only registered Democrat in the 2016 race for the property appraiser’s office in Okeechobee County.

Mr. Cates, 60, is currently employed as an independent insurance adjuster who is licensed in 13 states. He has held that position for seven years.

A widower, Mr. Cates is currently engaged to be married to Shawna ‘Shay’ Hughes Sulzer. His family includes daughters Katlyn (Steven) Varner and Jessica Sulzer; son Brandon Grady, and son Jason (Adrian) and their two children Adleigh and Nathaniel.

Steve Cates

Steve Cates

His parents are Bill and Mary Ann Cates.

Mr. Cates is a 1973 graduate of Mayfield High School in Mayfield, Ky. He attended Murray State University and is a Vietnam veteran having served in the U.S. Air Force.

He has over 30 years of experience in fair and equitable assessment as he has worked in the Okeechobee County property appraiser’s office; the Cole Layer Trumble Company; and, the Graves County, Ky., property valuation administrator’s office.

Mr. Cates pointed out that he worked every position there is in the Graves County office. He was employed there from 1981 until 1990, when he was elected to the position of Graves County property valuation administrator. He held that slot from 1990 until 1998.

He also served as the reappraisal project manager for Cole Layer Trumble Company — a subsidiary of Tyler Technologies, which is one of the world’s largest mass appraisal companies.

He worked in the local property appraiser’s office as the senior appraiser from 2001 until 2008.

“I received the Certified Florida Evaluator (CFE) designation while working in the Okeechobee County property appraiser’s office,” he offered.

Mr. Cates has successfully completed the Kentucky Department of Revenue comprehensive examination in order to be a candidate for the property valuation administrator. He also finished the North Carolina Department of Revenue comprehensive exam in the appraisal of property for ad valorem purposes.

He is also a certified Kentucky assessor and holds a Senior Kentucky Assessor certificate. He received those certificates after attending and passing over 150 hours of property courses in The Bluegrass State.

Mr. Cates has attended over 350 hours of continuing education in his field, including the classes of: fundamentals of real property appraisal; income approach to valuation; appraisal of land; valuation of public utilities; income approach to valuation; fundamentals of mass appraisal; mass appraisal of residential property; commercial/industrial modeling concepts; assessment administration; personal property valuation; principles and techniques of cadastral mapping; GIS for assessor workshop; valuing property affected by environmental contamination; and, standards of practice and professional ethics.

These courses, he said, were put on by the International Association of Property Assessors.

“I have the experience and qualifications to make sure all assessments are fair and equitable,” he said. “I will make the office available for all the residents of Okeechobee County.”

He also vowed to have all employees in the local property appraiser’s office take educational courses each year to heighten their abilities in carrying out their duties.

So, why should the votes choose you as their property appraiser?

“The voters should elect me because of my experience and qualifications. The campaign is being funded with my own money and I will not be obligated by taking donations,” he said. “This will ensure fair and equitable assessments with all classes of property.”

Mr. Cates went on to say his contract with the insurance adjusting company will end in June, and at that point he “will be going out to introduce myself to the residents of Okeechobee County.

“I would appreciate your consideration and vote for Okeechobee County property appraiser,” he added.


William ‘Russ’ Duncan (REP)

William ‘Russ’ Duncan is one of two Republican candidates vying for the office of property appraiser for Okeechobee County.

Mr. Duncan, 40, is currently employed as the agriculture appraiser and Geographic Information Systems (GIF) manager at the local property appraiser’s office. He has been employed there for 12 years.

Russ Duncan

Russ Duncan

Mr. Duncan and his wife of 11 years, Christina (Poirier) Duncan, have a 9-year-old daughter, Lily, and a 6-year-old son, Wyatt. His parents are Bill and Sandra Duncan.

A 1995 graduate of Okeechobee High School, Mr. Duncan earned an Associate of Arts degree from Indian River Community (State) College in 1997. He went on to graduate from the University of Florida in 1999 with a Bachelor’s of Science degree in agricultural operations management.

Mr. Duncan is a Certified Florida Evaluator with the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR). He has also attended continuing study classes through the International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) that include: fundamentals of real property appraisal; income approach to valuation; residential modeling concepts; fundamentals of mass appraisal; and, appraisal of land.

He has also attended DOR classes dealing with sale qualification and verification, and Geographic Information Systems. He has also taken classes put on by the Environmental Systems Research Institute.

His current responsibilities at the Okeechobee County Property Appraiser’s Office include agricultural appraisals and classifications, which also deals with residential and commercial buildings.

“I also perform residential appraisals, including subdivisions and mobile home parks. I input appraisal data into the Cama Appraisal System and run reports,” Mr. Duncan added. “I manage the GIS system at the office, which requires me to decipher legal descriptions, input the information into the GIS and generate custom maps for appraisals and general public use.

“I also have field experience in data collections,” he continued.

If elected, Mr. Duncan said he would be a hard-working property appraiser that believes in honesty, transparency and fairness in property assessment.

“I offer a leadership style that will engage the staff of the office to be involved in the community, respect the historical role of our office and strive to better serve the taxpayers,” he vowed.

He went on to say he also offers hands-on and managerial experience in all major aspects and functions dealing with the property appraiser’s office.
So, why should the voters choose you as their property appraiser?

“I have lived in Okeechobee my entire life and consider nearly everyone a neighbor or friend. I believe that I can foster good local government that works for everyone,” he replied. “I will be fair and impartial in assessing properties and homes. I will also be hard-working, trustworthy and approachable.

“The county needs new leadership here to ensure an equitable tax roll. I am the candidate who possesses exactly what my calling card says: integrity and experience you can trust,” he added.


Sharon Wallace (NPA)

With 27 years in public service, Sharon Wallace has announced she will be seeking the office of property appraiser in Okeechobee County.

Mrs. Wallace, 55, has no party affiliation (NPA) and because of that will go straight through to the general election in November.

Sharon Wallace

Sharon Wallace

She has lived in Okeechobee for almost 30 years and for 27 of those years she has been married to her husband, Michael Wallace. Together they have two daughters, Katie and Josie; one grandson; and, one granddaughter.

She went on to say both of her daughters graduated from Okeechobee High School and were involved in 4-H, FFA, Big Lake Trail Riders, Upward Basketball, gymnastics, band, softball, swim team and Church of Our Saviour youth groups.

Besides their family and grandchildren, Mrs. Wallace said she and her husband enjoy the outdoors, exercise, animals, music and arts. The couple, she added, have served on the vestry of their church and have been members of the Church of Our Saviour for almost 30 years.

She is currently a full-time candidate for the property appraiser’s office.

“I am dedicated and focused on winning the November election so that, together, we can make a positive difference for our community,” she said.

Mrs. Wallace earned her Bachelor’s degree in information technology. She is also a certified Geographic Information Systems (GIS) Professional (GISP).

She said GIS has been a standard and valuable tool for property valuation in connection with tax assessment for real property since the mid-1990s.

“But, not in Okeechobee,” she added. “I am the only candidate that can bring this experience to the Okeechobee County property appraiser’s office, and by integrating this technology we will advance Okeechobee.”

For the past four years, Mrs. Wallace has been the GIS coordinator for the Highlands County Board of County Commissioners where she worked closely with that county’s property appraiser, sheriff’s office, supervisor of elections, tax collector and the clerk of courts.

She also worked with the municipalities of Avon Park, Lake Placid and the City of Sebring.

Mrs. Wallace made a bid four years ago to become the local property appraiser, but was defeated by then-incumbent Bill Sherman.

Part of her experience for this office comes from her working in the Computer Assisted Mass Appraisal (CAMA) system on a daily basis. This database, she explained, contains an enormous amount of data and for that reason there can be many undetected errors.

“By merging CAMA with GIS, I can visually display the CAMA data in the form of maps — making the errors that exist blatantly obvious. You may be paying more than your fair share in taxes,” she noted.

Years ago, when she set her sights on the property appraiser’s office, Mrs. Wallace began taking International Association of Assessing Officers (IAAO) courses. These courses are required by the Florida Department of Revenue (DOR) for all newly-elected property appraisers. She went on to point out that she attended these courses at her own expense.

“I will be a better leader because of the state-of-the-art technology and experience I will bring to this office,” said Mrs. Wallace.

If elected, she vows to use her vast experience with GIS/CAMA technologies for property assessment, tax administration, mapping and information technology. These, she continued, are things no other candidate can offer.

This technology will only benefit other offices in Okeechobee County.

“Let me advance Okeechobee by embracing technology,” she offered.

So, why should the voters choose you as their property appraiser?

“Thank you for taking time to read this. As a candidate for property appraiser, I assure you:
• I will take politics out of the assessment process.
• I will stop litigation with job creators.
• I will protect your property rights with fair assessments.
• I will listen to your ideas and concerns.

“With your support and vote, together, we can make a positive difference,” added Mrs. Wallace

For information on her campaign and plans for this office, go to her web site: http://www.AdvanceOkeechobee.com.


D. Robert Wilson (REP)

Local commercial Real Estate broker D. Robert Willson, MAI, CCIM, has announced he is seeking the office of property appraiser for Okeechobee County.

Mr. Willson, 50, is the owner and broker for D.R. Willson Land Company in Okeechobee. He has owned the full-service commercial Real Estate firm since 2000.

D.R. Wilson

D.R. Wilson

Mr. Willson, a Republican, earned his Associate of Arts – Business Administration; Finance, degree from the University of Florida in 1986. In 1989, he earned his Bachelor of Science degree in Real Estate from Florida State University. Since then, he has amassed thousands of hours of post graduate education in Real Estate appraisal.

He also holds the MAI commercial Real Estate appraisal designation; is a state-certified general appraiser; and, is a Certified Commercial Investment Member (CCIM).

“The MAI designation is the most difficult to obtain and the most prestigious designation in the country. I am the first and only designated member of the Appraisal Institute in Okeechobee’s history,” Mr. Willson said. “I have been appraising Real Estate full time since 1990, or over 25 years.”

Mr. Willson is currently not married but he does have two daughters, ages 16 and 20.

He has attended a large number of appraisal courses and seminars put on by the Appraisal Institute that include: standards of professional practice; litigation valuation; eminent domain and condemnation appraising; partial interest valuation; Florida state law for Real Estate appraisers; litigation skills for the appraiser; and, Florida appraisal law.

He has also attended seminars on HUD/FHA lender selection; case law and how it affects the expert’s valuation; becoming a better expert witness; market analysis for commercial investment Real Estate; and, financial feasibility for investors and developers.

Mr. Willson has also been designated as an expert witness in multiple courts.
Locally, he: served as president of the Okeechobee Board of Realtors three times; is currently the past president of Rotary; is a member of Main Street and the Chamber of Commerce; is a past instructor of all the appraisal courses for Indian River Community College, which is now known as Indian River State College; is a past member of the Okeechobee Economic Council; and, is currently serving on the Okeechobee Planning Board.

While acknowledging he does not like taxes, Mr. Willson does admit they are not going away. Because of that, he vows to make sure every property owner has a fair value assessment in accordance with the law.

“If any property owner meets the requirements of a tax exemption, I will make every effort to make sure they receive their exemption,” he said. “I will work as best I can to incorporate decisions made by the county and city planning boards into our valuations. I will be involved with the county’s budget process even if they do not like it, because regardless of the assessed value of a property the millage rate determines the taxes.”

The millage rate, he added, is set by county commissioners and is based on their approved budget.

“Again, I do not like taxes. However, the next best thing is fair taxes to all based on sound and fair assessments,” he offered.

He also vows to have an open door policy and to remain active in the county’s affairs.

So, why should the voters choose you as their property appraiser?

“I am not a candidate that works for a government agency that now wants to be elected to run the agency. I am not someone that has worked for the government as a staff member, or has not worked for the past few years,” he said. “I am a full-time, life-time, educated, independent and self-made professional Real Estate appraiser from the private sector that wants to help make this office the best it has ever been.

“For the first time, Okeechobee has the opportunity to follow the path of many counties in Florida by electing an actual experienced, professionally-designated property appraiser as their property appraiser. I will make sure those working in the office of the property appraiser receive continuous education, and are the best at what they do.

“I will run this office professionally for the property owners and taxpayers of Okeechobee County,” Mr. Willson added.

Other 2016 Okeechobee County races

Meet the candidates for Okeechobee County Commission: District 1

Meet the candidates for Okeechobee County Commission: District 3

Meet the candidates for Okeechobee County Sheriff

Primary Election Information

Local candidates seek elected office 3/27/16

Eric Kopp is a staff writer for the Okeechobee News

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