In my last post, I explained that two of Collier County’s five constitutional offices are on the ballot in August: Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, and Property Appraiser. In that post, I also reviewed the role of the Clerk and the two Republican candidates for the position.
In this post, I will look at the role of the Property Appraiser and the two Republican candidates who are running.
Constitutional officers are elected by voters in at-large (county-wide), partisan elections. But when all candidates are members of the same party, the election becomes universal and all voters, regardless of party affiliation, may vote. That is the case in this race.
With just two people running, this election will be decided in August.
The Role of the Property Appraiser
The Property Appraiser is responsible for determining the value of all real and personal property in Collier County, maintaining property ownership records and parcel ownership maps, and administering state tax exemptions such as the homestead and the nonprofit exemptions. The Property Appraiser’s operations are overseen by the Florida Department of Revenue, which performs biennial in-depth audits of the integrity of Appraiser’s valuations.
The amount of property tax you pay on your home is a function of the value of the property as determined by the Property Appraiser. Property owners have the right to challenge the appraisal, a process that begins by contacting the Appraiser’s Office.
The Appraiser does not set tax rates, nor does he have the authority or power to reduce or raise the amount of tax owed on a particular property. Tax rates are determined annually by several different taxing authorities.
Collier County’s Property Appraiser maintains a publicly-searchable database of all properties in the county. Searches can be performed by owner name, by address, by name of subdivision or condominium, and more. A property listing includes the owner name and address, sales history, assessed value, Truth-In-Millage (TRIM) notices and tax bills. The Appraiser’s website also contains information about the various state tax exemptions and how to apply for them.
The Collier Property Appraiser oversees a FY 2020 budget of $8.7 million and a staff of 64 full-time equivalent (FTE) employees. His base salary is set by state statute as a function of county population. This fiscal year, it is $147,293.
The two candidates for Property Appraiser, both Republicans, are incumbent Abe Skinner and challenger R.C. “Rick” Lussy. The two previously faced off for the position in 2016. In that election, Skinner defeated Lussy with 86 percent of the vote. (Abe Skinner re-elected Collier County property appraiser, Naples Daily News, 8/30/16).
Since this is a repeat of the 2016 contest and there has been very little coverage of it this year, I found the League of Women Voters of Collier County’s 2016 Forum featuring the two candidates to be particularly helpful in my research.
Abe Skinner, 89, has served as Property Appraiser since 1991, and was a member of the Appraiser’s staff since 1962. As he said in the Candidate Forum, the job has been his life.
He attended the University of Florida and completed all of the International Association of Assessing Officers college-level courses required for the Certified Florida Appraiser (CFA) designation. See the Experience tab of his website for a more detailed bio.
Skinner says he has served as Collier County Property Appraiser “with the highest degree of honesty and integrity,” and that he has “the proven appraisal experience, managerial and leadership skills necessary to continue to run” the Office. He says he has “continually improved technical access to the County’s real estate information,” and that he, with his staff, “developed one of the finest GIS (Geographical Information Systems) in the state.”
He says he is running again to ensure that the Office continues “to be led by someone with proven appraisal experience,… proven managerial and supervisory experience and leadership.”
In His Own Words
- Skinner did not complete my candidate questionnaire
R.C. “Rick” Lussy
Rick Lussy, 70, has been a licensed Florida Certified General Appraiser since 1992, a licensed Florida Real Estate Sales Associate since 1988, and a Property Appraiser since 1973. He became a Florida resident in 1988.
He has a Bachelor of Science Degree in Real Estate and Finance from the University of Montana. See the Qualifications tab of his website for a more detailed bio.
As noted, this is the second time Lussy has challenged incumbent Skinner for this office.
In fact, Lussy has a long and unsuccessful history of running for Property Appraiser in Florida. In 1992, he undertook the first of what was to become six election challenges to the incumbent Martin County, FL, Property Appraiser, receiving 20.8 percent of the votes that year and a declining share subsequently. He explained his several attempts by disparaging the incumbent personally and telling a reporter that “there’s a conspiracy among [the incumbent’s] “green machine,” whose 150 members wear green T-shirts when working on the campaign. Lussy accuses them of keeping him under surveillance so they can contact whoever he contacts, but he offered no proof.”
Lussy’s 2020 website takes a similar approach in his campaign against incumbent Skinner.
In addition, Lussy has a history of filing lawsuits. In a 2001 case, Lussy v. Fourth District Court of Appeal, the Florida Supreme Court observed that “Lussy’s petitions are full of disjointed, defamatory ramblings,” noted a number of previous cases that were “dismissed as facially insufficient,” and listed a number of “similar pleadings” in which court review was denied or appeals dismissed.
According to the Supreme Court Order, “Ours is not the only judicial system that Lussy has assaulted. In the 1980s, he tormented the courts and parties in the state of Montana…. Lussy’s abuse of the judicial system has drawn the ire of the federal courts as well.” The case concludes, “It appears to the Court that you have abused the judicial system with an excessive number of frivolous or incomprehensible pleadings in this Court,” and essentially refused to hear any further “civil petitions and appeals” from Lussy “unless signed by a member of The Florida Bar.”
In His Own Words
I reviewed the most recently-available financial reports of both candidates on the Collier Supervisor of Elections website and noted the following:
Lussy’s campaign is entirely self-funded. He loaned the campaign a total of $2,050 and contributed an additional $6,547.
Skinner received 16 contributions from individuals, the maximum amount of which was $500, and loaned his campaign $22,000.
Skinner wants to ensure Collier’s Property Appraiser’s Office continues “to be led by someone with proven appraisal experience,… proven managerial and supervisory experience and leadership.” Lussy says it’s time for a change. It’s up to the voters to choose.
This race is open to all Collier voters and will be decided in August.