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Cornell uses mother-in-law’s Save Our Homes benefit to pay half the property taxes of his neighbors

BY LEN CABRERA

In August 2019, Alachua County Commissioners Ken Cornell and Robert “Hutch” Hutchinson accused then-Alachua County Property Appraiser Ed Crapo of under-assessing high-dollar properties in Alachua County. It turns out that while Cornell was complaining that some people aren’t paying enough in property taxes, Cornell himself was taking full advantage of his real estate and accounting knowledge to pay half the taxes of his neighbors. 

In 2016, Cornell sold his Melrose home and purchased a new home for $275,000 more than the sale price of his old home, yet his 2017 property tax on the new home was $1,100 less than the 2015 property tax on the old home and less than half the amount paid by neighbors with lower estimated market values.

According to Alachua County tax records, Cornell purchased his Melrose home in 2016 for $715,000. When he purchased the home, its assessed value was $386,090, with a tax bill of $8,183. (The tax bill is based on the taxable value, which reflected a $50,500 homestead exemption.)  The following year, the home’s assessed value dropped over 40% to $224,960, cutting the property tax to $4,562 (after the same $50,500 exemption). His 2020 tax bill was $4,844, still less than the final full year in his less-expensive previous home ($5,351 on an assessed value of $265,700). According to Zillow.com, his current home’s estimated market value is now $916,800, but the assessed value was just $239,427 in 2020. 

When asked about the reduction in assessed value between 2016 and 2017, the Alachua County Property Appraiser, Ayesha Solomon, gave the following statement: “The Alachua County Property Appraisers Office is statutorily required to maintain 3 values for each property within the county. These three values are market or just value, assessed value, and taxable value. General real estate market estimators found online do not factor in things such as exemptions, capping or deferred values, classifications, or cost of sale adjustments that the Property Appraisers Office is required to consider.” Solomon was elected in 2020 after Crapo retired.

Specifically for Cornell’s home, the Appraiser’s Office said, “The new owners of the property applied for homestead and portability, reducing their assessed value by $208,840 and therefore reducing the taxes.”

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In 2017, Cornell’s just (market) value was $433,800, and the assessed value was $224,960. The difference between those is $208,840, just as the Property Appraiser’s Office reported. The homestead exemption ($50,500) is deducted from the assessed value to get the taxable value ($174,400). 

Portability is the transfer of the Save our Homes (SOH) assessment limitation, the “accumulated difference between the assessed value and the just (market) value,” from one property to the next property owned by the same person if both are in the state of Florida. An example: A home with an assessed value of $200,000 with a Just (Market) Value of $350,000 has a $350,000 – $200,000 = $150,000 tax benefit. If this homeowner sells the home and buys a new home, the $150,000 tax benefit would be applied to the new home’s Just (Market) Value so the Assessed Value will reflect the $150,000 tax benefit.

The Appraiser’s statement implies that the $208,840 difference between Cornell’s 2017 just (market) value and his assessed value was transferred from the SOH benefit on his previous home. In that case, there would be a similar difference between the just (market) value and assessed value of his previous home, but tax records indicate that those values were the same, so Cornell did not have an SOH tax benefit to transfer.

In response to our request for comment, Cornell wrote, “We had a large transfer of Save Our Homes from my mother in law’s previous home that lowered the assessed value.”

Cornell’s home is in two names, and the second name belongs to his mother-in-law. Checking with the Duval County Tax Collector and Property Appraiser confirmed a very large SOH benefit transfer. Cornell’s mother-in-law’s home sold in 2016 for $390,000. That year, the just (market) value of her house was $371,739 and the assessed value was $162,901, for a difference of $208,838. The property tax on that home was $2,257 in 2016. 

An obvious advantage of Cornell’s real estate expertise is having in-depth knowledge about the real estate market and the tax benefits that can be exploited. Cornell’s mother-in-law picked a great year to sell her home: in 2016, the just (market) value soared 16.4%, and the assessed value only went up 0.7%. The SOH benefit in 2016 was $51,137 more than it was in 2015. 

Cornell and his mother-in-law both sold their homes in 2016 and jointly purchased the new Melrose home for $115,000 less than the sale prices of their previous homes; at the same time, they reduced their combined property taxes from $7,608 to $4,562.

Cornell’s 4,099 square-foot lakefront home has the highest estimated market value in the entire neighborhood. Much smaller houses, owned for much longer and with much lower market values, pay significantly more in property taxes. One home was bought in 2006 for $620,000. Its assessed value in 2016 was $363,300, only $22,000 less than Cornell’s. The next year, that property owner paid 61% more in taxes than Cornell ($7,359 vs. $4,562).

The closest neighboring house, in terms of current estimated market value, was built in 2016. It’s a much smaller house (2,546 square feet), but the year after it was built, when Cornell’s assessed value dropped 40%, this home was assessed at $455,840, with a tax bill of $10,738— more than twice Cornell’s tax bill. (The owner did not claim a homestead exemption.) The current Zillow.com estimated market value is over $200,000 lower than Cornell’s home, but the 2020 assessed value and taxes are double those of Cornell’s house.

None of this is illegal, but few people are aware that they can save that much money by transferring a parent’s SOH benefit to a newly-purchased, jointly-owned home when a parent decides to move in with their children. 

In 2020, the Alachua County Commission voted to set the property tax rate for the general fund at the rolled-back rate, which keeps property taxes nearly flat for existing property owners. But for 2021, the County Commission will vote on September 14 to impose a rate that is 3.61% above the rolled-back rate, increasing the general fund budget by about $8 million; thanks to the SOH benefit transfer, Cornell will pay a smaller share of that increase than his neighbors.

  • Just another CLEAR example of a liberal elite saying, “do as I say, not as I do.”

    All you idiots crying for equity, keep on believing…

  • Just like pre-2016 NY Dem Donald Trump, our local realtor-turned-politician is exploiting the tax laws to the fullest allowed by law. Interesting. Wonder what design his MAGA hat will look like?

  • This system needs revamping. My next door neighbors pay <$2000/ year in taxes ( 1985 purchase). My property taxes are over 4$k ( 2005 purchase) .

  • County King Cornell and City King Poe both have short & pudgy man complexes to act bold. But both are so feminine and scared of physical conflict they have to act bold not with violence, but with underhanded use of public resources. Both should be regarded as cowardly thieves of public trust.

    • You seem to be struggling with your own masculinity. Methinks thou dost protest too much.

      • Herr Sexton…We all know that’s something YOU’LL never struggle with. Still waiting for that county car accident response.

  • Mr. Cabrera is so anxious to cast Ken Cornell in a bad light that he is now resorting to trying to spin this “nothing burger” of a story into something important. Ken is an accountant and real estate professional who thoroughly understands how the property tax laws work and made the choice to set up a joint household with his mother.

    It must have been difficult for Mr. Cabrera to write the line: “None of this is illegal, but few people are aware that they can save that much money by transferring a parent’s SOH benefit to a newly-purchased, jointly-owned home when a parent decides to move in with their children.” It is telling that he buried this line at the end of the article instead of leading with it.

    The headline is rather laughable. A more accurate one might have been, “Breaking News, Accountant Understands Tax Laws!”

    The Alachua Chronicle is becoming quite the vehicle for personal attack pieces that are in extremely poor taste.

    • It’s a great story Mark. Now I know how to transfer
      My save our homes benefit and my 1031 like kind exchange to my million $ beach front
      Home. Thanks Len, great article!

    • Mark Sexton is back to hide from questions about vaxx, while somehow pretending to be on attack.

      Dear Mark Sexton, will you always hide from death numbers caused by vaxx until your career is over?

    • Herr Sexton…It would be nice if the county attorney had as great an understanding of Florida Constitutional law or at least put forth 1/2 the effort into understanding it as she does in attempting to find ways around the governor’s Constitutional authority. Ironic, how few laws and regulations liberal governed communities feel apply to them.

      Love the hypocrisy.

  • The old saying: It is not how much you make, it id how much you keep.
    If you know or we all know how to work the system, the city/county would have a tax shortfall.

  • After you ran that political hit and smear piece on James Thompson and got blood on your hands, we could assume that you would back off the political opinion pieces disguised as news articles. But we would be wrong.

    This hit piece by Len is beyond disgusting. The title implies “Hey, the Chronicle found a crooked Democrat Politician and here is our expose” but in reality this is just a “I Hate Democrats” smear piece by that fascist Republican Len.

    The piece sees to imply Cornell did something wrong. But finally, in paragraph 15 of a 16 paragraph piece, you write “None of this is illegal.” Then why write this long misleading piece at all? Did Len get a wedgie after doing many hours of research and finding nothing illegal to write about? How sad.

    In addition, the title is grammatically wrong. “Cornell uses mother-in-law’s Save Our Homes benefit to pay half the property taxes of his neighbors” says he paid half the tax bill owed by his neighbors. You tried to say he “paid half as much tax as his neighbors” but Len was in such a hurry to publish a smear piece against a Hated Evil Democrat(The Enemy) he did not take time to proof read his title. Len, you reek. Big time.

    If you want to expose crooked politicians, write about your hometown of Alachua. The ones that set your property taxes. But no. After you wrote that piece about the CSI, it is obvious the Alachua Good Ole Boys got to you and gave you your orders: No more pieces about Alachua. You obey real good.

    • OW Douglas: what do you mean about a political smear piece
      On that James Thompson guy…didn’t he get arrested
      For a DUI? I heard he had a bad reaction to the Covid
      Vax.

    • Our Very Own…You pulled that conclusion out of your own @r$e. I didn’t draw that conclusion but I was surprised that the two $ociali$t$ were accusing the property appraiser of under assessing high dollar properties in the county. Worried about that budget when they were giving away the county would be my guess. Reminds many of what current federal leadership is doing and the lemmings, like yourself, are actually falling for it. Who is actually performing the role of president of the United States? It sure isn’t that empty shell of a man who isn’t permitted to answer questions.

      In the very first paragraph the author states, ” It turns out that while Cornell was complaining that some people aren’t paying enough in property taxes, Cornell himself was taking full advantage of his real estate and accounting knowledge to pay half the taxes of his neighbors.” Never implied anything illegal.

      Now since that’s all cleared up for you, if you’re able to pry Herr Sexton away from Cornell, you could have your turn.

      Keep believing..

  • Mark Sexton has attacked Len Cabrera who courageously spoke out about Ken Cornell’s tax manipulations.
    We should expect this from Mark, who has been milking the taxpayers’ teat like a world class leech for 17 years
    Director of County Communications? In other words, hired gun bulls*** artist. Maybe Mark is unique, but most “communications” managers are lying “whores” who would say anything their masters want them to say so that they can continue to get a paycheck.

  • oh, mark sexton is not accountable to random citizens…while he works this vaxxine depopulation scam

  • Another classic self own by the Cabrera’s. Wealthy left-wing or uses excess profits to pay his neighbors taxes, film at 11. Watching you asshole stoke up the right wingers on the west side of the county is just too too funny

  • Cornell used legal means to pay less property tax. Many people are pushing for a Springs County, which proposes to have zero property taxes. I consider Cornell to be the First Resident of Springs County, yet the western fringe is upset he got there before them.

  • The article is excellent journalism. It will hopefully compel lawmakers (or referendum authors) to fix a loophole whereby an elderly relative can move in and transfer their SOH bonuses. That is a ridiculous loophole only a scoundrel would exploit, hurting the local property tax revenues when they’re needed most.

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