The agenda can be found here.
There is one item on the agenda that gives us pause.
4. Approve an Interlocal Agreement with the Brevard County Property Appraiser (BCPA) and Brevard County Tax Collector (BCTC), to contract with a third-party vendor, Tax Management Associates, for the review of the validity of all residency-based property tax exemptions; the City agrees to have 28% of the proceeds of the collections paid to the vendor. (If no liens are filed and paid, the vendor will not be paid. This agreement has no immediate impact on
the budget, and in the future will decrease the number of exemptions that are improperly claimed and increase the property tax revenue to the City.)
In theory, it is a great idea to stop tax fraud. It is a great idea to have people pay back taxes for deductions and exemptions they have taken in the past illegally.
Our concerns are what we give up to get the tax money.
1) The third party deal reminds us greatly as to the stop light cameras and other “outside lawyers for hire in civil suits by the government.” There is a perverse incentive to “get” more people. Even though the contract says it is the Brevard County Property Appraiser who has the final say in proceeding with actions against tax payers, the incentive for the company is to find more candidates of alleged cheating. We would be interested in seeing data from other counties as to the number of people who TMA alleged were cheating, but were not.
2) The agreement does not stipulate who pays for the removal of a tax lien if in fact it was improperly applied to a property. Should a citizen pay the costs of going to court to defend an accusation like being a tax cheat when they are not? It seems that the contract between the County and TMA tries to isolate the TMA from any legal consequences of being wrong. We aren’t sure that seems right. If a company is acting on the direct of the County and something goes south, the company has legal responsibilities as well.
3) Private data will be supplied to TMA. There is a rule in data security that the more people that have the data, the more likely it is to be stolen. If there is a data breech at TMA, who is responsible for the costs incurred by taxpayers?
4) The County spent a million dollars on new appraising and tax software. A million dollars can’t buy a programming module that would interface with other taxing districts to see if people are taking multiple exemptions across the state? This could not be done in house?
5) The investigation of tax records by TMA is a case of “guilty until proven innocent.” It is one thing to say “we think this person is a tax cheat.” It is another thing to say “here are the tax records and personal data of every tax payer in the county. Go ahead and investigate everyone.”
There is a lot of money at stake here. We don’t like the idea of tax cheats but at what costs do we search for and find those cheats?
We want to be clear. We cannot say whether we are for or against this proposal We do know that we have questions about it that go far beyond what is presented.
As always, the meeting will be on Spectrum channel 497.