GREEN COVE SPRINGS – Clay County Property Appraiser Roger Suggs’ walls and shelves are covered with certifications, memorabilia, plaques and plaques with gavels on the second floor of the Administration building.
Suggs, 57, announced his retirement after the 2020 election. He jokes his wife will only let him take two.
“I might try and push it to three [items],” he said.
In Suggs’ 29 years with the county, the office has changed dramatically. The tax rolls were produced on paper in massive volumes. All 70,000 parcels were listed on a page somewhere. The office used a box-like IBM Mainframe 36, which resembled a chest freezer.
“Now we don’t even capture the tax roll on a CD when we send it to the state of Florida,” Suggs said. “We just transfer it electronically.”
The county has more than 92,000 taxable parcels now. Suggs said the county’s taxable valuation will finally exceed its pre-recession 2007 levels this year.
“In 2018, we have still not reached what (the value) was in 2007. We lost that much. We lost about $2.8 billion worth of taxable value when the real estate market plummeted,” Suggs said. “This year, 2019, will be the first year since 2007 that it will be the greatest number.”
An important part of the property appraiser’s office is its independence, Suggs said. The described running the office as a blend of private and public practices and responsibilities.
“We’ve never considered ourselves a revenue agent for the various taxing authorities. That’s not our function,” Suggs said. “Our function is to make sure everybody is assessed equitably and fairly according to the law and to make sure everyone gets the exemptions to property taxes their entitled to.”
After stints in Marion and Alachua counties, Suggs served from 1986-1990 at the state Department of Revenue where he dealt with counties in Northeast Florida. He had to randomly sample 180 properties in each county and abruptly compare them to what local property appraiser had on tax rolls to see if they were compliant.
“It was like, ‘Generate me your numbers right now. It was a pretty scrutinized process,’” Suggs said.
Suggs originally was offered the Assistant Property Appraiser job by former Property Appraiser Wayne Weeks, which Suggs held for 18 years. Suggs ran for the top position in 2008. He ran unopposed in 2008, 2012 and 2016.
Suggs’ No. 2, Assistant Property Appraiser Tracy Drake, has already filed for the office. Drake, 47, has been assistant property appraiser since 2011 and was director of appraisals from 2004-2011.
He said it was critical the property appraiser stay independent and apolitical.
“We’re appraisers first and foremost,” Drake said. “That's the way Roger and I have approached the job. Experience matters in this job.”
Counties in Florida have tough requirements from the state. They must complete an assessment every year. In 2011, Suggs’ office received a certificate of excellence in assessment administration from the International Association of Assessing Officers.
“It’s an audit on the office’s best practices,” Suggs said. “What are you doing and how do you do it? You answer questions that make up 13 chapters of a self-audit on your process.”
As the election nears, Suggs said the only requirements to be the property appraiser was votes. But with the 25th largest county in the state and 33 staff, Suggs and Drake agreed it was crucial the office is managed by an experienced professional.
“There’s a lot of work to be done every year,” Suggs said. “It’s a big deal. It’s been a great ride. I wonder where it went."