Interview with, Rick Singh – Candidate for Orange County Property Appraiser
Conducted by: West Orlando News Online
Date: October 10, 2012
WONO: Mr. Singh, please introduce yourself and tell us why you are running for Orange County Property Appraiser?
Rick Singh: My name is Rick Singh and I am running for Orange County Property Appraiser because I want to give back to a community that has given me so much, Orange County, my home for over 25 years. This is a place where I have deep roots. My children have gone to public school here – my daughter has gone from kindergarten to university to become an attorney right here in Central Florida. And my son has gone from kindergarten to university and is becoming an appraiser like his dad. My wife has served the community as a neo-natal nurse for almost two decades, and I have built an appraisal business here in Central Florida, as a real estate professional, a real estate broker, and also as a professional appraiser.
So, I am running for this office, quite simply, to give back to this community. There is a saying, to whom much is given, much is expected and this is my reason for running.
WONO: The overriding function of the Property Appraiser’s office is to fairly and accurately assess property values for tax purposes. Are you satisfied that this is currently being done in Orange County?
Rick Singh: Absolutely not and evidence of that can be seen in the overturning of assessments that happens on an annual basis, since the current property appraiser has been in office. Let me give you an example: We have approximately $91 billion worth of assets and a small sampling of tax payers file petitions, and in this case it’s about 2,000. A professional appraiser like me would then look objectively at the property appraiser’s record with regard to these people’s property and hear testimony as to why they believe the value is fair and equitable. These professional appraisers, who are called Special Masters and put there by the Value Adjustment Board, have been overturning these assessments at a rate of $100 million-a-year, since this current property appraiser, Mr. Donegan, has been in office.
And I believe this comes because Mr. Donegan lacks the experience as an appraiser. He has never appraised a single home in Orange County and is not a State Certified Appraiser. As a matter of fact, he took some classes at an appraisal club, it is called IWAO, I believe, and they have given him their credential. But the true test for a qualified property appraiser comes when your appraisal value is reviewed and accepted by institutions like, Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, all major banks, all credit unions and other lending institutions in America. None of these institutions would accept my opponent’s opinion of values, because he is not a qualified appraiser. So, because he is not a qualified appraiser, because he has never appraised a single family home, or a business, because he doesn’t have experience as an appraiser, I believe this is why a small sampling of his work, when tested, fails and is being rejected by the Special Masters.
WONO: Let me follow up, the $100 million-a-year property valuations that are overturned, how does that compare with other counties of similar size? Is that over the top, is that way out of the ball park?
Rick Singh: That is way out of the ball park.
WONO: What would you expect a more normal figure to be?
Rick Singh: Well, it would really depend on the quality of the work of the appraiser. It’s really hard to determine without analyzing the mess that he has been created in the Property Appraiser’s Office. From my first day on the job, I would begin an assessment of the Property Appraiser’s Office, including an appraisal of practices, policies and procedures, as well as, a review of all personnel and systems. From there, one would then come up with prescriptions aimed at cleaning up the mess, then work toward implementing the changes.
WONO: Before leaving this subject, the overturning of this $100 million-a-year in terms of property valuations, does this come at a cost to tax payers?
Rick Singh: Well, it’s ironic you bring that up because, the way the system is set up taxpayers are really at the short end of the stick. If taxpayers want to take this further and if they are right then they have to pay their own attorneys. The way the system is set up, taxpayers have no rights to claim attorneys’ fees, if they prevail in court. Mr. Donegan has gone to Tallahassee and spent taxpayers’ dollars lobbying the Florida House, lobbying legislation to fight against taxpayers, to support a special law that prevents taxpayers from collecting attorney’s fees when they prove to the court that the property appraiser is wrong. Why should taxpayers have to pay to tell him he’s wrong? So, he has used taxpayers’ dollars to fight against taxpayers, yet he claims to be a small business conservative. This is an ideology of cyprocrisy because, he says one thing and does something else.
WONO: So, let me be clear on this, even if a homeowner challenges the valuation of their home or business and wins in court, that owner still has to pay attorneys’ fees?
Rick Singh: Absolutely. If you go to Small Claims Court and you win, you are entitled to put a claim in for attorneys’ fees. But, if you are suing for a $100-million property, or a $50-million property you have no claim to attorneys’ fees. And the current Property Appraiser advocated for this by, essentially hiring lobbyists, testifying himself in Tallahassee and using taxpayers’ dollars to do this under the guise of an appraisal association that he belongs to. So, taxpayers are paying his expenses while he is up there testifying against them.
This current property appraiser is fighting vigorously against small families, against the middle class, against the small business person, to keep it that way. And I think it stems from incompetence because, that $100 million-a-year will translate into a lot of attorneys’ fees that the Property Appraiser’s Office would have to pay because of incompetence.
WONO: As you have campaigned, you have talked about preferential treatment that is being given to special interests trying to get out of paying taxes. Could you elaborate on this?
Rick Singh: It’s a very uneven system in that some entities have the ability to hire experts – expert appraisers like me – and they go in and argue their positions utilizing techniques, practices, policies and procedures, but who are they arguing against? They are arguing against a current property appraiser who has never appraised a home in his life, is not a qualified appraiser, and has no appraisal experience.
So, you’ve got professionals arguing against someone that is incompetent who is supposed to be defending the taxpayers. So, here is the challenge and dilemma that the taxpayers face – special interests bombard the Property Appraisers’ Office and they prevail, ultimately.
WONO: You have talked a lot about protecting seniors and wanting to freeze property tax assessments. Could you tell us what you have in mind?
Rick Singh: It’s not the jurisdiction of the property appraiser to create legislation but, I can promote legislation, I can promote ideas, I can promote good code-of-conducts and practices in our communities and one of those is to protect our seniors. No senior should be taxed out of their home. As I go across Orange County, seniors are complaining of assessments, they are complaining of being taxed out of their homes to the point where they have to make a decision between blood pressure medicine and their property taxes. What I’m simply proposing, as part of my Fair Plan, is to essentially freeze the assessment of seniors as long as they can demonstrate that their income is frozen. Quite simply, if their income is frozen then their assessment should be frozen too.
WONO: You mentioned over-assessment and there seems to be complaints here. We have seen property values plummet in Orange County and elsewhere across the United States. Are you satisfied that valuations and assessments have “fallen in line” with the drop off in property values?
Rick Singh: Well, I don’t think the powers-that-be that make these assessments can read. If you read the Orlando Sentinel, or you take any publication, or any news media, they indicate – and also the Board of Realtors – that there has been a significant drop in terms of property values, but yet the assessment remains the same and in some cases, have actually gone up. So, part of my platform, part of my Fair Plan is, if the value of your home goes down, your assessment should go down too. Remember an appraisal is market-driven.
WONO: Why isn’t that happening and what would you do differently, should you be elected?
Rick Singh: This is happening because – and I firmly believe that the Property Appraiser has an agenda – of overestimating property valuations in Orange County. Of course, if you ask Mr. Donegan, he will say we need the taxes. I agree we need the taxes; I firmly believe we need the taxes but, we also have to save money and stop wasting taxpayers’ dollars. I believe there is a lot to be saved by cutting out waste.
WONO: How would you resist the pressure from the political leadership to maintain relatively high valuations so that you could, in fact, collect taxes?
Rick Singh: There is no Democratic way or Republican way to appraise a home: there is a fair way, there is an equitable way, and there is a competent way. I answer to the taxpayers of Orange County and not to any political figure, not to any institution. So, my agenda will be to answer to the taxpayers and make the taxes fair and equitable. If everybody is assessed fairly, then no one has to carry an unfair burden.
WONO: Community outreach is very important to you. Talk about how this will be undertaken?
Rick Singh: As I have campaigned, I have gone into various communities – seniors and minority and white neighborhoods – and have found there is no communication, no outreach. People don’t even know who their property appraiser is. People have never seen their property appraiser in the flesh. I firmly believe in having outreach programs and plan on implementing a program called Ambassadors. And what that program is, is having representatives in the community. Orange County is a large county and while the Property Appraiser is only one person, we will have retired folks in our community, community leaders sitting on boards that can be part of the community outreach program. These community leaders will have an opportunity to advocate for their communities, bringing their ideas, opinions and suggestions, to the property appraiser of the day. And of course the property appraiser can adjust, or make changes that better serve the community. And I firmly believe too, this will make for stronger communities. This is what the public service is all about; as constitutional officers we should be serving our constituents in this capacity.
WONO: How is your campaign going? Will we be seeing Rick Singh as the next Property Appraiser?
Rick Singh: My campaign is going well. I was told when I started running that this would be impossible because I’m running against an incumbent, someone who is deeply politically entrenched. Let’s face it, I’m running against one of the “good old boys.” My response is, everything I’ve done in life is hard. I tell them coming to America as a ten-year-old child who had lost his father two-months prior, for me that was hard. I tell them that growing up as a poor immigrant kid in the Bronx, New York, with a funny name and funny accent, that was hard. I tell them leaving behind a young wife and a six-month-old baby to serve in the U.S. Army, that was hard. I tell them starting a business and working 16- and 17-hour days to make it grow into something, that was hard. But running for office is difficult, it’s not hard. But, it’s made so much easier with the support of members of the AFL-CIO, 45,000 working men and women, not the Chamber of Commerce, but working men and women that represent Orange County. Also, Orlando Firefighters, the Alliance for Retired Americans and other groups that have endorsed me – these are the people that make my campaign worthwhile. These are the people that have given me the energy to keep on going, and campaigning as I have been doing.
To be frank, this is not the most popular race. But because of my hard work, because of my enthusiasm, because of my zeal to be the next Orange County Property Appraiser, I have made a very innocuous race one of the most prominent races of Central Florida. We have been getting the attention of people that have never even spoken of a property appraiser, or don’t even know that a property appraiser exists. So again, I’m very proud of the campaign I’m running. I’m proud of the support I’ve gotten from the community, and I look forward to being the next Property Appraiser of Orange County.
WONO: Why should voters vote for Rick Singh as their next Property Appraiser?
Rick Singh: Quite simply because, it is not enough to be a political figure in this political office. The Property Appraiser must be qualified to deal with the appraisal issues of the day. As an example: our Sheriff has a law enforcement background and experience; the chief of the Fire Department has firefighting experience and background and we expect our Attorney General to have a legal background. Therefore, our property appraiser must be an appraiser to effectively deal with the issues of the day. There is something that is called “unconscious incompetence,” and without this experience, without this skill, without this talent, the current Property Appraiser doesn’t know that he doesn’t know and that is a dangerous place to be when he is controlling $90 billion-dollars in assets. A simple mistake can be detrimental to the single mothers out there, to the senior citizens, to the middle class families, to the small businesses, to the little guy. Nobody is advocating for the little guy. I want to be the property appraiser for all the people. I want to be the property appraiser that is going to be proactive, that is competent, and I feel that there is a stark decision between me and my opponent. I am a professional appraiser, my opponent is a politician. I am a real estate broker, and my opponent is a “consultant.” I’ve been a real estate investor, my opponent is a lobbyist.
I have founded a private sector business. I have worked in private practice appraisal.
Now let me explain what that means. That means that I have performed thousands of appraisals. I have trained many, many appraisers to be professional appraisers, I have mentored appraisers, I have testified as an expert witness. My opponent doesn’t qualify to be a trainer in his own office with his credentials. He does not qualify because he lacks the experience to be a trainer in his own office.
I’ve actually worked for the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office for a number of years. My opponent had no relevant experience at the time of his appointment by of Gov. Jeb Bush. I have built a business with over 65 employees. My opponent has cut the professional staff. I am certified by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, my opponent is not certified by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. As a matter of fact, my opponent claims a CFA certification from an organization called the IWAO, but we’ve gone to the IWAO site and the accreditation he claims doesn’t even exist.
My evaluations are accepted by the mortgage companies, banks and insurance companies. I’ve been serving the real estate industry for years. His valuations are being overturned when they are put to the test by Special Masters at a rate of $100 million, a year. As a broker I rely on signed-written documents. My opponent has spent $450,000 of taxpayers’ money for legal services without signed contracts; most of it went to law firms that he is friendly with.
I support legislation that will allow taxpayers who prove that their assessments are wrong to recover their attorneys’ fee. My opponent lobbied against this vigorously. He has testified against it, and he has lobbied against it.
So, I think this is a race to contest; this is a race to contest cronyism and this is a race to contest unfairness. Check my opponent’s record, his budget and the amount of money he spends in the minority communities and with women-owned businesses. We are talking about over $100 million that he has spent and a mere 17 percent has gone to these communities and to these groups. That is shameful in this day and age. We are not in the age of 1964, we are in 2012.
As a community we have gone from the Bob Carr Performing Arts Center to the Dr. Phillips Performing Arts Center. We’ve gone from Amway Arena to the new Amway Center. We are advancing. We are building monumental and significant medical institutions. We have got to be move beyond the old ways of doing things, the Bill Donegan way of doing things We have got to move into a new way of doing business, with forward thinking, and advance the Property Appraiser’s Office into a new era. And with my leadership, I’m prepared to do that.
WONO: Thank you, Mr. Singh.
Rick Singh: Thank you, too.
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