So you finally received a decision from the Special Magistrate and, whether you won or lost, at least your VAB appeal is over and done with, right? Not quite. For those Florida counties that employ Special Magistrates, the recommendations of the Special Magistrates are just that – recommendations. Florida Statute 194.035 authorizes the value adjustment boards to accept those recommendations without further hearing, but the ultimate authority to grant or deny a petition rests with the VAB, which consists of two county commissioners, a school board member, and two citizen members.
In most counties, the final VAB meeting is not particularly exciting. Unless they have a question about a particular petition, the VAB members will usually move to approve all of the recommendations of each Special Magistrate as a group, without any discussion. The Special Magistrates usually attend the final VAB meetings in case the Board members have a question, and occasionally Board members will ask a Special Magistrate to further explain their recommendations. There is usually no opportunity for the taxpayer or Property Appraiser to re-argue their position as to a particular petition, although the Board will often have an open “public comment” session at the end of the meeting, after they have rendered their decisions.
Of course, there are exceptions. Some county value adjustment boards have adopted procedures whereby the taxpayer or Property Appraiser can file written objections to a Special Magistrate’s recommendation, as long as they limit their objections to legal issues, and do not try to introduce any new evidence. Other VABs allow Property Appraisers and petitioners to orally address the Board and object to adverse Special Magistrate recommendations at the final VAB meeting.
In general, even in counties where the VAB allows for oral or written objections, the parties are not allowed to introduce new evidence that was not presented at the hearing before the Special Magistrate. In fact, an appellate court recently held that a VAB did not have authority to hold a rehearing and allow new evidence to be presented after it had accepted the Special Magistrate’s recommendations. This case does not necessarily preclude a VAB from rejecting a Special Magistrate’s recommendation and holding its own evidentiary hearing. However, such a scenario is highly unlikely in most counties, as the VABs tend to defer to the expertise of the Special Magistrates.
After the final VAB meeting, the Clerk has 20 days to issue the final Record of Decision for each petition. Taxpayers who are not satisfied with the decision of the VAB can file an action in circuit court, but such actions must be filed within 60 days after the decision was rendered by the VAB. Actions challenging the denial of a homestead exemption must be filed no later than 15 days after the VAB renders its decision. These deadlines are jurisdictional requirements that cannot be waived, so if you are considering filing a court action, it is essential that you contact an attorney as soon as possible, as failure to meet the deadline will result in dismissal of your court case.