Todd Jones‘ credentials as a tax appraiser are impressive, even to the average voter who doesn’t usually keep up on such things.
The 58-year-old South Tampa Republican isn’t modest in describing his skills, saying flatly, “I am without a doubt the most qualified appraiser in the state when it comes to property tax evaluation issues.”
Whether that makes him the man who can usurp Democratic incumbent Bob Henriquez in the Hillsborough County Tax Appraisers race will be decided by voters this November.
“Certainly on paper he’s got a plenty of designations, but frankly, those are in fee appraisal, not mass appraisal, ” says Henriquez, who says that he believes Jones doesn’t really understand the nature of the job, which he says is mostly administrative.
Fee appraisal values are investigations into the value of a home, whereas mass appraisals value the entire county where market areas, neighborhoods, subdivisions and large groupings of similar properties are appraised at one time.
Henriquez formally kicked off his re-election campaign Tuesday night at the Columbia Restaurant in Ybor City, where a large crowd gathered to show their support (as well as wait in line for Cuban sandwiches, paella and other Columbia favorites).
The 51-year-old Henriquez is a fifth generation West Tampa native who served in the Florida House for eight years. He had been out of elected office for six years before he opted to run for the appraiser’s job in 2012 after longtime incumbent Rob Turner was ousted in a GOP primary by Ronda Storms after a porn scandal enveloped his office.
He easily defeated Storms that year, and went about changing elements of the office immediately.
“Three years ago I was given a great honor to represent the county as a constitutional officer, but these jobs are not partisan in nature, they’re about good government, about being good stewards of the people’s money, of running a good clean office,” he says in making the case for his re-election. “We’ve done all those things. We didn’t just change jobs, we transformed the office and moved it into the 21st Century in many ways.”
Jones says if elected, he can guarantee more accurate assessment values than Henriquez. And he charges the incumbent with spending “an inordinate amount of money lobbying elected officials,” citing Henriquez membership with the Florida Association of Property Appraisers, a group that Jones says “has a 40-year history of aggressive lobbying and litigating against taxpayers rights.”
Henriquez acknowledges being a member of the association (where he serves as legislative chair) but says that other than the dues the office pays into the group, “we don’t spend any money on lobbying. That’s simply not true.”
Jones says he believes Henriquez is a “very nice man, but he doesn’t know enough about the particulars of the process in my opinion.”
Jones says he does, having been in the business since graduating with a master’s degree in business from USF in 1983.
He’s a past president of the Florida Association of Property Tax Professionals, is a member of The Counselors of Real Estate, holds the MAI and AI-GRS designations from the Appraisal Institute, and is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors.
He was an inaugural member of the Florida TaxWatch Tax Advisory Council, served on Rick Scott‘s Tangible Personal Property Taskforce in 2011, and in 2012, then House Speaker Will Weatherford called on him to work on comprehensive tax reform.
Henriquez says that Jones should rightfully be proud his of his accomplishments in the fee appraisal world, but says “they really don’t apply in the mass appraisal world.”
But he’s not ready to concede anything else to his opponent, saying that his office has professionals on staff that are as credentialed as Jones is. Henriquez adds that he earned his Certified Financial Appraiser designation within two years of winning office, “so it’s not as though he’s the only certified appraiser.”
“Folks like Todd Jones, tax reps that earn their living to game the system for commercial real estate clients would have us in depositions and in front of the court, those decisions are made largely by other professionals in our office,” Henriquez claims.
Even with the back and forth already beginning, Henriquez says he is appreciative in a way that Jones has entered the race, saying that it allows him to talk about all of the accomplishments that have taken place in the appraiser’s office since 2012.
Whether he feels that way in November remains to be seen.