Councilwoman sued by county over homestead

Brevard County Property Appraiser Dana Blickley’s office has filed a lawsuit against Indialantic Councilwoman Mary Jo Kilcullen and her former husband Matthew, seeking to remove the homestead exemption from their Ramona Avenue house. Blickley said in the suit, filed in May, that the Value Adjustment Board in March erred when it granted the Kilcullens’ appeal of a ruling against the exemption, declaring the couple had abandoned the property by renting it out.
If the suit is successful, it is unlikely to impact Kilcullen’s council seat.
“It’s interesting that I am the first person to have a VAB decision appealed by the property appraiser,” Kilcullen said.
Trizia G. Eavenson, the appraiser’s lawyer, confirmed that no decisions of the VAB in Brevard County have been appealed by the property appraiser over the last five years. But she dismissed any connection between the lawsuit and Kilcullen’s council seat.
“Neither Ms. Kilcullen’s name, her political involvement nor her community involvement have any bearing on this suit by the office. This was a decision based solely on the conclusions reached by the VAB. The property appraiser is simply working toward upholding Florida statutes,” Eavenson said.
The issue surfaced in 2015, when Indialantic police confirmed a complaint that the Kilcullens were renting their house while residing in suburban New York in violation of local codes. When notified of the violation, Mary Jo Kilcullen ended the practice, but the property appraiser concluded in June 2016 that prior occasions of absence warranted an end of the homestead exemption, which reduces tax liabilities for homeowners. In Kilcullen’s case, the market value of the property in 2016 was $294,090, the assessed value was $85,930, and with a $50,000 exemption for all but school taxes, the taxable value came to $35,930, according to VAB documents. According to Brevard County Tax Collector records, Kilcullen paid $5,548.03 in taxes on Nov. 30, inclusive of county, school board, municipal and special taxing district assessments.
“Indialantic is very aggressive in stopping illegal vacation rentals in town,” said Mayor Dave Berkman. “Our residents don’t want it and it hurts our legitimate businesses. If someone chooses to do this and is caught, they will be shut down and reported.”
In July 2016, Kilcullen petitioned the VAB to overturn the decision and a hearing was held last October. According to the current suit, Kilcullen went to New York for a surgical procedure and recovery with every intent on returning. She consulted with her accountant who advised her she needed to be in the home for six months to qualify for an exemption. She did not believe she risked her homestead exemption by renting the property.
“A VAB special magistrate granted the petition concluding that Kilcullen never abandoned her homestead with the issue turning on the intent of the owner,” the lawsuit said. “But rental of a homestead property constitutes abandonment. The sheer weight of evidence mandates revocation of the homestead for 2016 and subsequent years.”
Last November, Kilcullen won a seat on the council. Because of the time spent in New York, a couple of residents requested Town Attorney Paul Gougelman investigate her legality as a full-time resident. Gougelman researched the issue and decided she indeed met the residency requirements.
“I did talk to Mary Jo and one of the things she told me that when physically residing in New York, she filed income tax using her Indialantic address. That’s an indication she had every intention to continue her residency in Florida,” Gougelman said.
The Illinois Supreme Court in a similar case ruled that current Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel met the residency requirement for office even though he spent a significant amount of time working in the Obama White House.
The lawsuit will have no bearing on the residency issue, Gougelman said. “The property appraiser’s actions are a different issue then whether she is a resident.”
Eavenson said the litigation is in the early stages. “Upon completing discovery, the parties can then decide their next course of action.”

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