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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Economic Crunch Hitting Home

By Sid Riley
Statistics From Court House Reveal Increasing Level of Struggle For Many Jackson County Citizens.

This week I conducted an investigation of the activities of several key departments within the court house in an effort to determine how much impact the downturn of our economy is having on households in Jackson County. The results were revealing.
Activities of Jackson County Clerk of the Courts –Mrs. Dale Guthrie
We did an analysis of several economic indicators including statistics on foreclosures, small claims, and evictions here in Jackson County. We attempted to compare activities in 2007 to what happened in 2008, and what is happening during the first few weeks of 2009.

2007 = 134 2008 = 197
This is a 47% increase in foreclosures in our county!
Even more significant is a look at the last three months of 2008, which was when the economic news really began to turn gloomy.
2007 Oct-Nov-Dec = 42
2008 Oct-Nov-Dec = 70
This is a whopping 67% increase.
Even more disconcerting is what has happened thus far in January. During January of 2008 for the entire month there were 20 foreclosures. Thus far in the first two weeks of this year there have already been 20, and at this writing, two weeks are left in January 2009.

Small Claims:
The number of small claims being processed is a measure of how many people are not able to pay their bills. Statistics provided by Beverly Hatcher and Julie Melvin who are on Mrs. Guthrie’s staff show that in 2008 there were a total of 1330 small claims for the year. During that year, 124 were processed in the month of January. For 2009, with only two weeks of the month having transpired, there have already been 152 small claims entered this month. This is a dramatic increase in bad debts. It appears that almost a third of these claims are entered by utilities, again indicating the financial plight of many families.
During 2008 a large increase in filing fees for evictions was implemented (From $80.00 increased to $287), but this did not slow the tide of eviction activity. Although exact statistics are not at hand, Julie Melvin stated that they have tripled in number during the past few months. Many unfortunate people can not pay their rent.
The bankruptcies statistics for our area was not readily available. However, on a national basis, for 2008 the bankruptcies were up an astounding 49% over 2007.
Activities of the Jackson County Tax Collector –
Mrs. Sherry Brown
The Tax Collector’s primary duty is to collect the property taxes for the county through administration of the tax roll. There are several statistics on revenue inflows which reflect the economic health of our area which can be gathered from this function.
We compared the inflow from early payments of tax bills in 2007 and 2008, using November and December. The inflow of funds during the two years was almost identical for these two months, with payments totaling approximately $13,500,000 each year. In conversation with Sherry Brown, she felt that those who pay early are essentially the same property owners each year, and those people would not differ much from year to year. She stated that the most revealing data would come at the end of the collections period on April 1, when the number of delinquencies is revealed. If the downturn in the economy has had an impact, it will be revealed when more people than normal are unable to pay their taxes.
Mrs. Brown did state that she felt the number of "bad checks" encountered where payments did not clear the banks was up this collection year. That is probably a sign of financial stress.
One statistic which does show a worsening economy is the significant number of additional tax deeds sold in 2008 over the number sold in 2007. At the 2007 tax sales there were 1885 total certificates. In 2008 this increased to 2372, an increase of 487 or +26%. Total monies collected in 2007 from tax certificates was $667,119 and in 2008 this increased to $987,833. This is a dollar increase of $300,714, or + 45%.
Another aspect of the tax certificate sales that is an indicator of economic changes is the fact that there were 14 less bidders present at the sale in 2008. Sherry Brown stated that the large banking representatives who normally come for these sales did not show up in 2008. This is probably due to the increased negative pressures that were occurring within the banking industry at that time. Since the large institutional buyers were not present, local buyers ended up with a larger percentage of the certificates, and the interest rates were 3% to 4% higher than normal. The largest tax certificate sold in 2008 was the Hatton House in Sneads, with a tax certificate of $38,781.
Activities of the Jackson County Property Appraiser – Mrs. Sharon Cox
From information garnered in this function we can evaluate what is happening to property values in our county. Data from sales activities again reflect that the situation worsened during the last quarter of 2008.
The change in the homestead exemption calculations as provided in the passage of Amendment One affected taxable values calculations. However, since this change did not impact the school taxes, we are using those values for our comparison of assessments.
2007 Schools Assessment for county = $1,485,147,618
2008 Schools Assessment for county = $1,553,399,285
(+ 68,251,667 or +4.6%)
New construction in the county created $41,289,496 of the increase.
Land Transaction Deeds:
The number of land transaction deeds filed provides an evaluation of the amount of real estate activity which occurred. This also reflects the demand for real estate.
Year Transactions
2006 3,823
2007 3,177
2008 2,615 (-18%)
Mrs. Cox stated it was the last quarter of 2008 when the slow down in transaction became acute. Also, during the last six months of the quarter a much larger percentage of the transactions on deeds were tax deeds or foreclosures rather than market activity.
She emphasized the fact that although the number of transactions has effectively fallen back to what are "pre-boom" levels, the pricing levels on sales has held. Right now it seems to take longer to sell a home, especially in the higher price ranges.
Compass Lake In the Hills:
Size and diversification in levels of development within this subdivision makes assessing values more difficult. It is hard to find consistency in pricing. From 2002 until 2006 there was essentially no change in valuations at Compass Lake in the Hills. In 2006 she was forced to increase the values. Generally, a vacant lot was valued at $16,000 which was still much lower than actual sales levels.
Values were again reviewed in 2007 and 2008. There were fewer sales, but pricing remained at higher levels and the assessment was thus increased to $16,500. In 2008, especially during the last quarter, sales have fallen. However, many of the sales during 2008 were at very good prices.
"I feel I may be able to reduce the Compass Lake interior lot values for he upcoming 2009 tax roll", Cox stated. "This year Jackson County is under an ‘in depth’ review by the State Department of Revenue. I do not expect any substantial increases in assessments in the 2009 tax rolls. I will have a better picture of the entire county in a few months. The assessment tax roll has to be submitted to the State by July 1."
Other Valuable Information:
· The 2008 tax roll did not include Green Circle Bio, which will have a significant positive effect on the 2009 tax roll.
· In 2008 the largest taxpayers based on taxable value were
§ Gulf Power
§ Embarq
§ West Florida Electric Coop
· The largest taxpayers on Real Property Values were
§ Wal-Mart
§ Arizona Chemical
§ Lowes Home Center
From this analysis it is safe to state that the national economic downturn is also being felt by many families in our county. The increases in the last quarter and especially in the first few weeks of 2009 reflect a worsening situation. Foreclosures, delinquent bills, evictions, increased tax deeds, and falling real estate transactions are all reflecting a growing plight for many. Additionally, Kenny Griffin with the Chipola Regional Workforce Board states that the number of applicants seeking jobs in our area is rising steadily.
Traditionally Jackson County is somewhat sheltered from economic downturns because of the high percentage of our labor force deriving income from federal, state, county, or municipal governments…or from the agricultural base in our local economy. Let us all pray those truths remain in effect.
Editors Note: Our thanks goes to these constitutional officer for their assistance in putting this analysis together.

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