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1:10 A.M. — A new law that ensures Florida homeowners with defective drywall will get a break on property assessments could drop the taxable value of property in Lee County by tens of millions of dollars.

Taxable value has already dropped to $54.9 billion, down 15 percent from the year before. The number is used to calculate 2010-11 budgets for local governments and fire districts.

Owners of more than 1,500 homes in Lee will likely qualify for a reduced assessment.

The additional drop would mean even less tax revenue is collected, but it's unclear whether the amount would have a significant impact.

The law finally gives direction to the property appraisers across the state, said Ken Wilkinson, Lee County property appraiser.

"It gives relief to people being harmed by something they never anticipated," Wilkinson said.

The drywall was installed mostly between 2004 and 2008, smells foul and corrodes air conditioning coils and other metal fixtures in houses. Many homeowners complain of health symptoms from nosebleeds to respiratory problems.

The law requires all county property appraisers to reduce the assessed value of homes with defective drywall, regardless of whether the drywall was imported or made in the U.S. If the home cannot be sold without fixing the drywall, the property value will be reduced to zero.

The zero value would be for the structure only, not the land it sits on.

Wilkinson was the first Florida appraiser to drop values of drywall homes last year by 50 percent.

He said he chose that number because he determined that the market value of those homes was reduced by 50 percent.

The break went to 1,083 county homeowners last year, Wilkinson said. Those homes had an average reduced value of $86,428.

The additional number of homes reported to the appraiser's office this year brings the total to more than 1,500, Wilkinson said.

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The number of those homes that would be valuated at zero has not yet been calculated.

The law applies to homeowners who bought homes with drywall unknowingly - not someone who buys a home with defective drywall to fix and resell.

Even if only half of 1,500 homes are dropped to zero valuation this year, multiplying that number by the $86,428 average value of a drywall home last year means the loss of almost $65 million to the tax base.

Using last year's tax rate, the loss in revenue would be $1.1 million.

That probably won't make much of an impact on entities such as the county or the school board, but it could make a difference in a smaller taxing authority, such as a small lighting district, Wilkinson said.

The impact also depends on where drywall homes are concentrated, Wilkinson said.

Ken Cramer, who owns a drywall home in Cape Coral with his wife, Denise, says a zero valuation would definitely help.

"I think it's a great thing if it actually happens," Cramer said. "Right now, with the economy, even if we wanted to fix the house we don't have the funds available to do it. This will help us save a little to put towards the remediation of the home."

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