Property tax base increases

OKEECHOBEE — The Okeechobee County tax roll will rise by 3.75 percent in 2017-2018, according to the Okeechobee Tax Collector’s Office.

The preliminary figure set June 1, was $1.72 billion an increase from $1.65 billion in 2016-2017.

Property Appraiser Mickey Bandi said there could be some fluctuation between today and when the tax roll is certified this summer.

He said there is more sales activity, permits for construction have increased and it looks like the economy is beginning to rebound in Okeechobee.

“We are seeing as good a real estate market and better economy than we’ve had in a decade,” he told the Okeechobee News this week.

Back in the 2004-2005 the county saw double-digit increases in tax roll, then for several years the tax base went down, and for several years was relatively flat.

Thing appear to be changing as coastal counties have seen a nice rebound in their tax base. St. Lucie County for example has seen a 6.75 percent increase in property values in the past two years.

“As people build equity in their homes over there, they will start to move over here,” Mr. Bandi said. “We see people filing for new homesteads this year in Okeechobee.”

Mr. Bandi said Okeechobee’s economy is often driven by what happens on the coasts.

“The real estate market is good and people have trouble finding listings.

We’ve worked through all the foreclosures. Many people bought houses in 2004-2005, have paid down the loan and can now start to move or sell their home. It makes the economy a lot healthier,” he said.

A couple of large homes were built in Pine Creek that added to the tax roll.

Another gas pipeline is under construction and will be added to the tax roll next year.

“I think our economy is getting stronger. We still have a lot of our jobs on the coasts and not local, but people there can’t find a five-acre tract or afford one on the coast. The small acreage is where it starts and that is starting to take off. It will soon bleed down into smaller lots and houses,” he said.

During the boom as many as 600 new homes were built in a year in Okeechobee. Bandi said he thinks Okeechobee can average 200-250 new homes per year in the near future.

“Builders are working on multiple houses and new construction is starting to take off,” he added.

Okeechobee also outpaced some other rural counties in tax base increases.

There was little change in commercial, industrial and agriculture land values.

Mr. Bandi said the tax roll also got a boost as Florida Power and Light took some land out of agriculture for the Okeechobee Clean Energy Center Natural Gas Power Plant. The entire plant will be on the tax roll in 2020, albeit with some tax breaks. The development and possible sale of lots at Okee-Tantie would also add to the tax roll in future years.

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