ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. (WOFL FOX 35 ORLANDO) –One Orange County leader has a plan to bring in one billion dollars. He’s not slashing the budget or cutting jobs, we’re told it’s all in your taxes.
Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh said he’s going after millions owed by so-called “tax cheats”— those who allegedly wrongfully filed for a homestead tax exemption.
“It’s basically a $25,000 or $50,000 discount that you get on your assessment and then you’re taxed on the remainder,” said Singh.
But you can only apply it to the house you currently live in.
Soon after Singh was sworn into office he decided to reallocate resources. His office used trained investigators to work with local law enforcement to crack down on fraud.
“With that, we found that there was a tremendous amount of tax cheats to the tune of 65 million dollars we were able to put on the tax roll,” said Singh.
To be exact, Singh’s office found $65,198,368 since January 1, 2013. Singh said over the next five to seven years that could add up to an extra billion dollars from those who falsely file for homestead exemptions.
How does it work? When a property is flagged, the exemption is pulled, property owners are given 30 days to pay back taxes. Penalties and interest then kick in. After that, a lien is placed on the property.
FOX 35 went to five houses listed in public records from the county appraiser’s office that are flagged as properties that received, but should not have gotten the homestead exemption. We were able to speak with people listed in public records as the owners of two of the properties we checked out.
FOX 35 spoke with the woman that OCPA records list as the homeowner for that home. She said she no longer owns the home. The bank does.
Singh agreed not all are clear frauds.
“But when someone is purposely trying to cheat the system then we want to aggressively go after those folks,” said Singh. “At the end of the day, if we all pay our fair share then we all pay less.”
Of the three other homes we checked, the records from the property appraiser’s office showed each owner as having a different principal address. County records even showed the woman who owned a home on Bayview Drive lived out of state.
“When we get the return mail, that would essentially be a trigger,” said Singh.
Singh told FOX 35 that all of the extra money collected goes back on the tax roll.
Singh also said many residents call the county’s new fraud hotline to report possible fraud. They also say they hear about the cases from tips left on their website: http://www.ocpafl.org/