The Tax Man Cometh

by

Drew R. Hamilton

Preston Trigg, director of administration and special projects, of the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s Office presented an incredible amount of resources to USF’s Public Affairs Reporting class.

Trigg’s department covers the tax collector’s warehouse, purchasing, fixed assets, facilities maintenance, construction, leases, contracts, records management and media relations.

Discussing records-based reporting, Trigg pinpointed to the Watergate Scandal as the event that inspired so many journalists to focus on stories involving public records.

In Florida, all records are presumed to be open.  The burden of proving whether a document is exempted from the Sunshine Laws lies with the office holding the record.

Trigg’s first stop on the records search brought the class to the Hillsborough County Tax Collector’s website.  Here he showed how easy it is to obtain the tax records for any individual in the county.  “Real estate represents the bulk of an individual’s wealth,” said Trigg.  “So that’s a good place to start.”  The tax collector’s website allows you to see what the individual paid in property taxes.

The tax collector’s website lead us to the next stop, the county appraiser’s website, which was only a click away.  There are a greater number of details at this particular website.  You can find the square footage of the dwelling, a picture of the lot, an aerial map of the property, and a layout of the house.  The assessed value or the amount of money an individual is taxed on, and the just value, or market value, are both on the appraiser’s website.

However, if a property is listed under a corporation, Trigg pointed out that a trip to the Florida Department of State website could allow you to discover who filed those letters of incorporation and which individuals own the company.  This is a an age-old tactic used to throw off the scent.

After Trigg’s presentation, the Public Affairs Reporting class had a much better idea of where to start when investigating an individual for a story.  There is an awful lot of readily available information for anyone who knows where to look.

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Published in: on February 23, 2011 at 10:58 pm  Leave a Comment  

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