New Orleans On the plane the other day I read a research report that had become big news in Miami called “Fisher Island: Rich Play, Poor Pay.” The report detailed the way people living in perhaps the richest zip code in America on Fisher Island near Miami Beach have managed to “game” the property tax system. Fisher Island and its contractions, as they used to be called, were the subject of a recent piece in the New York Times Magazine, so it all caught my eye.
There are only 400 or so families that live on Fisher Island. They have to take boats to get there. Each property is worth millions. Let your imagination start putting together the rest of this picture.
Anyway, in Miami-Dade County Florida law allows property owners to appeal any assessment on their property taxes. This is supposed to catch any errors made by appraisers. The story on Fisher Island is that everybody appeals every assessment.
As a result of these challenges, median assessed value property values on Fisher Island rose only 14% during 2002-2005 not counting certain exceptions through other exemptions allowed by other Florida laws. In the Miami area on the other hand, during the exact same period median home values rose by 90%. To quote the report’s executive summary: “…between 2002 and 2005, Fisher Island property owners managed to use this process to lower their assessed property values a cumulative total of more than $965 million below what it should have been.” Basically, they gamed the system to pull out a Billon Dollars worth of value for tax purposes that you had better believe they are counting on for any future resale or estate purposes!
This is not a scam. A scam is something where they might get over, but no one is really all that hurt. The Fisher gang’s heist on property taxes cost the county $15.2 million in tax revenues for one of the poorest cities in the United States, so in this case someone got hurt badly: the poor citizens and property owners of Miami and the rest of Dade County.
Hopefully, some of the lawmakers will start figuring that 400 families really cannot protect them from the wrath of the rest of the citizens now that this rip off is seeing the light of day.