Many, if not all of Florida’s sixty-seven individual county property appraisers routinely collect property valuation data for purposes of assessment of ad valorem taxes, which are specifically determined under the authority of the Florida legislature. While local governments have the authority to levy special assessments under the Florida Constitution’s municipal home rule provisions, they do not have the authority to determine ad valorem taxes. However, the valuations and methodology used to determine ad valorem taxes in Florida counties can be used to assess special assessments under a local government’s municipal home rule authority. In 2015, Florida’s Supreme Court announced in Morris v. City of Cape Coral that the previously decided City of Boca Raton v. State test controls whether special assessments levied by a local government are valid exercises of municipal home rule authority.
This Article begins by giving a background of special assessments in Florida, describing the assessments as a mechanism to collect additional revenue, but distinguishing them from ad valorem taxes. Primarily, special assessments differ from ad valorem taxes in that taxes are levied based on the value of the property, whereas special assessments are levied to provide a particular benefit upon the land assessed. Special assessments, the Authors explain, are valid exercises of constitutional municipal home rule authority if they meet a two-prong test. Further, the Article provides an in-depth analysis of Morris, and describes the prong of the two-part test that is at issue, specifically whether the cost of any improvement or service “fairly and reasonably” is allocated amongst specially benefitted properties. The Article also describes the comprehensive databases that are maintained by property appraisers, and argues that because the data is already compiled in accordance with a property appraiser’s duties, it is economically sound—compared to other methods—for a local government to use this information in the determination of special assessments.