Re-Elect Bob Henriquez
for Hillsborough County Property Appraiser
1. What has been your greatest accomplishment that has positively affected the community during your time as Property Appraiser?
I believe my greatest accomplishment has been the continual improvements within the office arising from the use of new technologies, a customer service centric approach initiative and maximization of human potential through cross training and career paths within the office. Some of these positive changes are obvious to the community, while others may not be.
First, the use of aerial imaging technology and mapping has allowed the office to perform more property inspections with less manpower, while simultaneously improving the accuracy of those inspections and providing a greater degree of privacy to residences. This office is statutorily required to inspect all property in the county every 5 years. We are now able to inspect every property every 4 years and accomplish it with less staff by using aerial imagery right from our desktop at the office. That aerial imagery also allows us to perform inspections of areas, as required by law, that would not be visible or practical to view with a simple windshield inspection. Using aerial imagery and technology also allows us to have fewer automobiles and personnel on the roads. We have found the use of this cutting edge technology has allowed us to place millions of dollars of taxable value on the roll that should have been there, while at the same time removing millions of dollars of value that taxpayer’s should not have been taxed upon. That’s a win-win! Our utilization of this technology was recognized nationally in 2015 with the DGAA (Digital Government Achievement Award).
Along those same lines, we instituted a new approach by leasing a fleet of hybrid vehicles to replace our aging conventional inspection vehicles. By doing so, we have a smaller carbon footprint, while at the same time reducing both our vehicle purchase costs and gas budget. We have realized savings of approximately $50,000 and about12.000 gallons of fuel annually since we implemented the new fleet.
I would also be remiss if I did not call attention to the great improvements in staff within the office. As personnel have retired, we have afforded numerous members of our current staff the opportunity to earn certifications and have brought in a very high caliber staff deep in real estate experience, this includes three appraisers with the MAI designation, considered the highest designation in the appraisal community. Prior to my tenure the office did not have any MAI designees on staff. Personally, I have taken over 250 hours of Appraisal training and continuing education. I have earned my CFA (Certified Florida Appraiser) designation and am well on my way to being awarded additional certifications.
Finally, and probably most obvious to the general public, the new intuitive website has been very positively reviewed by both residents and professionals that enjoy both the amount of transparent data and information available and the ease of access. Our website receives 1 to 2 million hits a month depending on the time of the year. Our previous, website was over 16 years old and obsolete to say the least. Our new website, including a new mobile application that is ready to launch any day, is state of the art and is being recognized as one of the best government websites in the country. We have also made significant changes in terms of how we provide customer service. Our branch offices are now full service for the first time and our main branch downtown has been reorganized to reflect the private sector concept of being “Customer Service Centric”. Basically, everyone in the office including myself is considered and trained to be a customer service agent.
As a result, of these and many other initiatives during my first term we have been awarded the prestigious CEAA (Certificate of Excellence in Assessment Administration), the highest designation given IAAO (International Association of Assessing Officers) to an office of our kind. Less than 35 out of thousands of agencies in the world have earned this designation.
2. What decisions (if any) have you made that have had a negative response from the community but with your knowledge and skills was the right decision to make? If you have had to make this decision, would you still stand by your choice that you made?
As Hillsborough County Property Appraiser, the decisions of me and my staff touch every resident of the county. A TRIM notice (“notice of proposed property taxes”) is probably not anyone’s favorite piece of mail. So of course we get a response from the community that is not always positive. Taxing authorities are concerned when values go down or do not increase as rapidly as they expected. Property owners are sensitive to increases in values or the failure to receive a desired exemption. However, the very best approach we can take, and do take, is to simply value property and administer exemptions accurately and fairly. Not doing so would unfairly shift the tax burden from one property owner to another. And of course, when an error is brought to our attention, we remedy it immediately. So, with every tax roll we do receive negative responses. However, we know that doing our job fairly and accurately is the only acceptable course. We are, simply put, not in the revenue business. Value adjustment board hearings are nearly half as many as prior to my taking office and nearly 75% are resolved or withdrawn prior to the hearings themselves. In my office, “Tie goes to the taxpayer! Period!”.
3. Going into a new term, what is your priority for Hillsborough County?
I am committed to continuing to implement additional initiatives of our Strategic Plan, to make our office more efficient and effective. I believe it is important to continue outreach and communication efforts to demystify the property tax process for our customers, the property owners of Hillsborough County. As you might suspect, our office has an extensive system of audits, quality assurance and quality control, to ensure accuracy and accountability, both internally and externally through the Department of Revenue. We have enhanced and will continue to fine tune our internal quality systems. Additionally, we will be instituting a system that will identify property owners that may qualify for property tax breaks or exemptions that are not currently benefitting from them. Every year we deny thousands of new and existing applications for various exemptions in Hillsborough County of those we believe do not qualify under the laws of the State of Florida. It is important for accuracy and fairness that we look for those that are “gaming” the system. However, I firmly believe that we must be every bit as diligent, by using research techniques and technology, to protect and inform the public of their rights to more accurate assessments and exemptions, as we are in determining those that may be benefitting by cheating the system.
The upcoming term will be an important one both for this office and for property owners in Hillsborough County. The real estate market is active again and that always presents challenges for the office in terms of keeping up with new construction, an increase in property sales and monitoring and following changes in market values. Thus, I would say continuing to apply technology and make sound staffing decisions in this exciting real estate market will be a priority in the upcoming term. It is notable that we currently have 7% fewer employees than we did when I took the reins at the same time property values and exemption applications have risen significantly. We will continue my promise to “Rethink, Reinvent and Reinvigorate” the office to become the nation’s leader in mass appraisal practices.