Property Tax Appeal Process Benefits Wealthy, Non-minority Homeowners

Property taxes in Florida are based on annual assessments of property values made by county officials.  Homeowners in Florida can challenge assessments that they believe overvalue their property and inflate their tax bill.  Informally, the homeowner may meet with the assessor to negotiate for a reduced assessment.  The homeowner may also petition for a formal hearing before a magistrate, who decides whether to grant a reduction after considering the evidence presented.  But is this system impartial and fair?

William Doerner, an economist with the Federal Housing Finance Agency (and former DMC fellowship recipient), and DeVoe Moore Eminent Scholar Keith Ihlanfeldt examined the efficiency and fairness of this system of appeals in Florida and report their findings in their article “An Empirical Analysis of the Property Tax Appeals Process” published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Property Tax Assessment and Administration (2014). Continue reading

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Some Regulations Hinder Storm Recovery

By Chad Thomas and Matt Kelly

One common policy response to hurricanes is to strengthen building codes. Former FEMA chairman Craig Fugate blames inadequate state and local building codes, rather than inept federal government disaster relief efforts, for the woeful response to Hurricane Katrina. After Hurricane Andrew in 1992, building code enforcement was enhanced in Florida and new regulations required stronger foundations, roofs, and windows to protect buildings from hurricane force winds and floods.

But do these regulations really prevent storm damage and increase recovery times from natural disasters?

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Economic Freedom Key to Cities’ Success

By Matt Kelly

Economic freedom is the unrestricted ability of people in a country to associate and transact with one another. Measuring economic freedom has become a growing area of academic research. Probably the best known measure is the index constructed for the “Economic Freedom of the World”  annual report on 159 countries published by the Fraser Institute and authored by Florida State University’s James Gwartney, Southern Methodist University’s Robert Lawson, and West Virginia University’s Joshua C. Hall. Other indices compare US states, like Cato’s Freedom in the Fifty States ranking. More recently, Dean Stansel of Southern Methodist University created a measure of economic freedom for US metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs). Stansel’s index ranks many Florida cities among the nation’s freest.

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Beyond Recidivism: Addressing Behavioral Change within American Prisons

By Stephany Bittar

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Photo courtesy of the Prison Entrepreneurship Program’s official website. http://www.pep.org/

Two-thirds of the 2.3 million Americans that are currently housed in the U.S. state and federal prison systems are expected to reoffend within three years of their release. Recidivism, or the tendency of a criminal to reoffend, is one of the most prevalent social problems facing current and former prisoners.

High recidivism rates found in the United States have a number of potential causes, but research has yet to find a specific cause, or provide definitive support for any one theory. Nevertheless, empirical evidence provides little support for incarceration as a general way to reduce recidivism. An essay written by criminologists Francis Cullen, Cheryl Johnson, and Daniel Nagin in The Prison Journal reviewed five studies and included data and statistics from over 50 others. Combined, the results showed that custodial sentencing – that is, a sentence where the offender is required to be held in custody – increased recidivism rates by seven to eleven percent. Continue reading

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Tallahassee’s Local Permitting Process Reviewed

By Benjamin Peterson, Colin Cook, and Scott Williams

One of the core issues of the DeVoe Moore Center (DMC) is regulatory streamlining and reform. Previous reports on local permitting have considered particular development types, including shopping centers and telecommunications towers. The DMC’s Data Analytics Group continues to examine the permitting process and most recently began examining retail and commercial building permits. DMC researchers obtained all publicly available permitting records for these projects from 1996 to 2014 from the Tallahassee Growth Management Department (TGMD). This information was used to determine the average wait time for permits, a key measure of regulatory performance and a cost to entrepreneurs trying to open businesses in the Capital City.

Permitting processes vary from project to project, but usually follow certain prescribed steps. (The permitting process for telecommunications towers in Tallahassee was detailed in a 2016 policy report by the DeVoe Moore Center).

  1. An applicant acquires a Land Use Compliance Certificate, which ensures that the proposed use conforms with land development standards in Tallahassee’s zoning code.
  2. An Applicant then completes a concurrency application, which specifies how the project will impact public utilities and the flow of traffic.
  3. A Natural Features Inventory is conducted at the expense of the property owner to identify all existing environmental features on the site, such as trees, wetlands, or animal habitat.
  4. An applicant must also create a site plan – an initial set of blueprints for the facility and a detailed construction plan. Land developers often need to revise and resubmit hard copies of the site plan to ensure conformance to the code.
  5. The Natural Features Inventory and the site plan must then be approved by Tallahassee’s Development Review Committee at regularly held public meetings.
  6. Once an applicant’s plans are approved, they may apply for a building permit. Construction can begin after acquiring the building permit. An applicant must also obtain electrical, plumbing, fire, roofing, and mechanical permits.
  7. Once all these permits are obtained and the structure is built, the applicant must obtain a certificate of completion or a certificate of occupancy.

Not all of these steps are followed in actual practice. Applicants can seek exemptions from certain parts of the process, and the Development Review Committee may grant deviations or “variances” from local zoning and building codes as its members see fit.

FIGURE 1:

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Study Explores Local Government Response to Recessions

Recessions can be trying times for city and county governments. They typically experience a fall in revenue from two primary sources:  1) a shrinking property tax base because of falling property values and 2) lower intergovernmental transfers—grants and other payments received from the state and federal governments—because of cutbacks made at these higher levels of government. To stabilize their budgets, local jurisdictions can increase revenue, lower spending, or do both.

To determine which strategies were most likely to be used, the DeVoe Moore Center’s Keith Ihlanfeldt and Erich Cromwell examined the budget decisions made by local officials in Florida cities and counties following the 2007 recession, and published in the National Tax Journal. Continue reading

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Citizens Property Insurance Corporation Still Vulnerable to Underfunding

By Chad Thomas

Florida’s Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (Citizens) is a state-run insurer of last resort for commercial and residential property owners unable to afford a policy in the private market. Citizens tends to insure wealthy homeowners along the coast, where property values and the risk of damage are highest. In 2002, the Florida Windstorm Underwriting Association and the Florida Residential Property and Casualty Joint Underwriting Association were merged to create Citizens.

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