PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Mike Twitty spent more than 26 years working as a real estate appraiser before he was elected as the Pinellas County property appraiser in 2016. Now he’s hoping to earn another four more years from the electorate this November.
“I really enjoy it,” the Republican told Spectrum Bay News 9 this week. “Because what it allows me to do is instead of serving one client at a time in the private sector, I’m able to serve our entire county.”
What You Need To Know
Two years ago, Twitty’s office created a tool that let homeowners estimate how much money they could save in property taxes if a constitutional amendment that would have expanded Florida’s homestead exemption had passed. Although the measure ultimately didn’t get the sixty percent required, he cites the experience as an example of how he’s worked hard on providing information and transparency to citizens since being elected.
His opponent in the race this November is Democrat Trevor Mallory, a property, renovation and maintenance manager for Family First Homes, which manages properties in mainly lower income communities in South St. Petersburg.
Mallory also serves on the boards of affordable housing organizations in both St. Petersburg and Pinellas County. It’s his second bid for public office, following an unsuccessful run for a St. Petersburg city council seat in 2013.
Mallory is running on a platform stressing equity, education and access. One issue that disturbs him is seeing seniors losing their homes due to their inability to pay high property taxes.
“The only way we can minimize that or slow that pace down is to educate or have better access from the property appraiser’s office to those seniors,” he says.
Twitty says he’s aware of that issue, and says that he’s been in discussions with officials in St. Petersburg about instituting an additional tax exemption to seniors, since the city has some of the highest property tax rates in Pinellas.
That exemption is available on the assessed value of the property if the homeowner is 65 years; the value of the home is less than $250,000 and the property has been the owner’s permanent residence for at least 25 years. Currently, the only two city governments to take advantage of that break in the county are Safety Harbor and North Redington Beach.
In a debate held earlier this summer, Mallory chided Twitty for not doing enough outreach to the community. If he was in charge, he says he’d create a department “that actually assists people who are not aware of a lot of things that are going on.”
Twitty says his opponent “may just not be aware” that his office has done over 150 outreach and educational events since he took office in 2016.
The issue of Black homeowners facing discrimination when it comes to appraisals has surfaced this summer, after a working paper by two economists revealed that Black families pay more in property taxes each year than white families in the same financial situation.
The study assessed sales data for 118 million homes throughout the country over the past decade, and found that in nearly every state, tax assessments were higher in areas with higher Black and Hispanic populations.
Mallory says the report reinforces the platform that he’s running on – to ensure that there are fair assessments for everyone. He says if elected he would put a team together to analyze the facts on the ground.
“Are we really creating fair assessments across the board? Because with all of these articles, facts, statistics. Statistics don’t lie,” he says. “We’ve just got to make sure that we control it in Pinellas County.”
Twitty has reviewed the study, and says he’s still trying to look at the actual “hard data” that informed it. But he’s convinced that his agency has never acted unfairly when assessing properties.
“Our data doesn’t discriminate in any way,” he says. ”We don’t know what the color of anyone’s skin is that lives inside of a home. That is not a data element that we track or care about. We’re purely looking at market data.”
Twitty also boasts that his agency has received the Certificate of Excellence in Assessment Administration, an honor from the International Association of Assessing Officers that he says less than two percent of property appraisers in the country are awarded.
“That’s the gold standard essentially for making sure that your methodology is correct, your assessments are fair and equitable. You’re delivering quality customer service…we check all those boxes,” he said.
Recently, the Pinellas County Appraisers Office updated the homepage of their website. Mallory takes credit for the changes, saying that it’s apparent that Twitty has been taking note of some of his criticisms about providing for more information to the public.
Nonsense, responds Twitty. He says those changes had been in the works for awhile.
In terms of fundraising, Twitty has raised more than $88,000 in the campaign to date. That’s four times the amount that Mallory has taken in so far (at $20,575).