For the first time in six years, property values in Lee County overall are on the rise.
For the first time since 2007, property values in Lee County are projected to have increased, at nearly 2 percent, with almost all 91 taxing districts seeing numbers climb.
Property Appraiser Kenneth Wilkinson released his preliminary valuation report for Lee County on Friday and overall, total valuation climbed 1.99 percent.
Total taxable valuation was $52.90 billion in 2012. The estimated valuation countywide is $53.95 billion, with the official numbers due next month.
Wilkinson is confident the trend for property values is heading up and staying there.
"We live in cycles in our lives, and when you talk about real estate, it's cyclical. I think we reached the bottom, we're on our way back up," Wilkinson said in a telephone interview. "I hope we don't go back to double-digit inflation. That's not good overall. I'd like to settle in on 5 percent."
In Matlacha-Pine Island, based on taxable valuations within the fire district, values crept up .39 percent, rising from $1.191 billion to nearly $1.196 billion.
"I think it's following the trend," Wilkinson said of valuations in Matlacha/Pine Island. "We're starting to see increases."
He believes valuations have likely stabilized.
"I see that trend continuing," he said of the slightly higher numbers.
Neighboring Cape Coral saw the highest projected increase in overall valuation at 5.67 percent in 2013 with Lehigh Acres close behind at 5.66 percent.
This is not unexpected when you consider Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral were ground zero for the housing bust in 2008-09, Wilkinson said.
As for the increase in the valuation and its affect, Wilkinson said it depends on your perspective.
"For city government it's a positive because it means there's more revenue. It also means the economy is better," Wilkinson said. "Is it a positive on the individual? If they want to sell their property, it's a positive. If they want to live there the rest of their lives, maybe not."
But with homesteading and the consumer price index up only 1.7 percent, that's as high as your tax can increase can be, and that is good news, Wilkinson said.
Meanwhile, in Cape Coral, which is in the midst of a "revenue diversification" plan that officials say will wean the city off its strong reliance on property taxes by reducing that tax rate while adding new tax sources, officials view the increase in valuation as a sign the economy is recovering.
"We appreciate we're on a comeback. But we're going to take a look at what we need and don't need. I would advocate returning it to the taxpayers," Councilmember John Carioscia said of the additional revenue that will be generated by the increase in valuations even if the tax rate remains the same. "We've been given a number of $20 million (in budget shortfall), and based on the public service tax and the fire assessment, they'll lower the millage one point."
The city's revenue diversification plan calls for two new taxes, a 7 percent public service tax on electric bills, and a fire assessment to pay for part of fire department operations, still pending. The city has proposed to lower the property tax rate by 1 mill, or $1 for every $1,000 of assessed valuation, to offset the impact of some of the new tax burden.
The official valuation numbers will come out July 1.
In 2012, Cape Coral also had the highest valuation increase in Lee County, at 3.82 percent. That came on the heels of some pretty lean years.
The overall value in the city was down 2.51 percent in 2011, 14.17 percent in 2010 and 32.78 percent in 2009, when the whole economy bottomed out.
In other areas of Lee County, Sanibel's overall valuation was among the few that showed a projected decrease, at 0.58 percent, and Fort Myers increased 2.57 percent, Wilkinson said.