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Group of Collier homeowners in “citizen’s revolt” against 93-year-old Collier Property Appraiser

Susan Piekenbrock said when she first looked at this year’s tax bill from the Collier County Property Appraiser’s Office, her “eyes popped out of her head.” 

The tax bill on her dream house in The Moorings beach neighborhood that she shares with her husband Robert was roughly $44,785, up from $26,300 the previous year, which was up from $12,551 in 2021 – representing a near quadrupling of taxes owed in just a few years.

“There was no way,” the 63-year-old Piekenbrock said she thought when she saw the bill. “I immediately called my husband and when he heard $44,000, he said, ‘It’s not sustainable. We won’t be able to keep the house.’”

Now desperate, she remembered that a friend had mentioned a neighbor who seemed to be a wizard at forcing the Collier County Property Appraiser to reduce property assessments, a Realtor named Carl Suarez. She got in touch, and he jumped on the case.

With Suarez’s help, Piekenbrock was able to convince the property appraiser’s office to shave nearly a million dollars off the original $4.8 million assessed value of her home. That reduced her tax bill from $44,000 to about $37,000.

Next comes an appearance before the county’s Value Adjustment Board (VAB), where she hopes to convince a magistrate to reduce the price further. All of it has been a result of step-by-step instructions from Suarez.

“I couldn’t have done any of it without Carl,” she said. “A lot of these people who are getting hit with big property tax bills don’t know what to do. Carl knows exactly what to do.”

For Suarez, holding the property appraiser to account is a passion, if not an obsession. He has become something of a Pied Piper for homeowners like Piekenbrock, specifically for those who don’t have homestead protection (which limits a tax hike to three percent annually) or are only recently homesteaded and are facing sky high tax bills. 

“They’re getting clobbered,” said Suarez of those homeowners.

It’s all headed to a showdown at the county-run Value Adjustment Board, where Suarez will lead a group of five Moorings homeowners, including himself and Piekenbrock, who are challenging their assessments and where a magistrate will make the final determination. 

But Suarez says the VAB deck has been increasingly stacked against homeowners during recent years as well. Tracking the numbers he found, for instance, in 2018 there were 55 appeals before the special magistrate, twelve of them successful. In 2022, the number of appeals jumped to 514, with only ten prevailing. 

The group is also fighting what they claim is a slipshod property appraiser’s office that issues faulty assessments, lacks sound appraisal methods, and operates without transparency. 

“They call it a ‘mass appraisal,’ but they won’t give you a formula for how they do it,” Suarez said. “It’s a random mess and a lot of times the valuations are low for some and high for others.”

Abe Skinner has been with the property appraiser’s office for six decades.

Among those for whom the valuations are low, said Suarez, are nearby large commercial properties like the Edgewater Beach Hotel and Naples Beach Club. “They’re paying pennies on the dollar,” he claimed.  

The real problem, say the complaining residents, lies at the top. They say Collier Property Appraiser Abe Skinner, at 93-years-old, isn’t up to the task anymore and runs the agency in the fashion of a “good old boy’s club.”  

“I think there should be term and age limits on the position,” said Suarez. “Maybe it’s 75, like they do with judges in Florida.”  

Skinner said he doesn’t plan to go anywhere, and said his appraisals are reviewed by the state Department of Revenue and approved every year, proving the office is performing in satisfactory fashion. 

“I still enjoy what I do,” said Skinner. “Until that time that I don’t enjoy it, I’ll continue. One day I might wake up and decide not to continue. I haven’t met that threshold yet.” 

To what does he attribute his longevity? 

“Just meanness, I guess,” quipped Skinner, who has been working in the office for 60 years and held the top post since 1991.“The devil doesn’t want me, I guess.” 

Does Age Matter? 

Concerns about Skinner’s age are valid, said Kevin Lilly, the chief deputy of the Nassau County Property Appraiser’s Office in northeast Florida. 

Lilly worked under Skinner for years before running against him in the 2012 election. He said even then, when Skinner was a mere 82, age was a factor in the race. 

“The office wasn’t moving forward with the things that could improve operations,” said Lilly. “Technology wasn’t being properly utilized and decisions that had to be made that weren’t being made. We didn’t even have voice mail on our phones then.”

He said Skinner worked roughly five hours a day back then and essentially served as a figurehead who relied on others to actually run the office. 

I like [Skinner], but at that age, I don’t know if [he is] necessarily the best person to run that office or any office,” said Lilly. “Obviously I lost the race, so people didn’t get the idea.” 

Skinner admitted he works lighter hours than most but said he’s good at delegating responsibility and is still on top of the office. 

“I’m here at the office practically every day,” said Skinner. “Sometimes I’m out of the office but most of the time I’m here administering my duties here at the office and I enjoy it and I’m good at it.”

“As far as staying the whole eight hours, I may or may not,” he added. “I may take off early, I admit that. But this office has good personnel. When I hire someone I make sure they have the idea of being dedicated to this office high in mind.”

Lilly said Carl Suarez presents serious opposition to Skinner. 

“He always has legitimate points and he’s persistent and informed,” said Lilly of Suarez. “At some point that office will need to have someone new in charge and planning for the future and addressing some of these issues that Carl has with the office.” 

Suarez has already bested Skinner in the past, having challenged his tax bills going back two decades. Using comparable sales and other factors, he won a significant tax reduction before the Value Adjustment Board five years ago.  

When he was awarded a refund, Suarez expected that neighbors also affected by the faulty assessment would get the same. That didn’t happen. 

“They gave me the refund and they pocketed it from everybody else, which I thought was wrong,” he said. “There’s no basis for a lot of what they do. There’s no comps. They provide zero evidence.”

The Edgewater Beach Hotel.

While he says his neighborhood has been consistently and at times wildly overvalued, other assessments appear to be undervalued, like the Edgewater and Beach Club properties. Suarez complained in an email to the Naples City Council back in 2020 that the Edgewater had been sold in 2013 for $55 million and yet was assessed at $30 million. Today, three years later, the property is valued at just $35 million, still $20 million under its most recent sale price. 

He claimed the Beach Club valuation is even more errant. 

“Over 8 acres of prime beachfront real estate valued at $39M,” Suarez wrote in the 2020 email. “Yet the next door neighbor at 779 Gulf Shore Blvd. with a mere 1.4 acres is being valued at nearly the same price at $31.5M.  Why the 80% tax break?”

While Skinner didn’t specifically address the Beach Club property, he said more goes into the commercial valuations than sales price. 

“Every property is a little bit different and you have to look at it like that,” he said. “You look at the value and the income. If it’s an income-producing property, you take that into consideration.” 

Skinner’s chief appraiser, Clyde “Jeep” Quinby, said the office has to rely on the income numbers provided by commercial property owners, which he called “fun and games,” because they are largely unverified. 

“You have your income approach, which seems to be fun and games,” said Quinby. “I don’t believe them half the time, but they have them, and we have to accept them.” 

Quinby said the reason the properties in The Moorings are rising in value so fast is that wealthy people are willing and able to pay up for the properties. 

“Too much money over there, people buying,” said Quinby. “We follow what people are paying. Two years ago properties went up 50 percent in that area.”

And he characterized Suarez, whom he deals with often, as little more than a nuisance.

“Every year it’s a different angle, every year it’s something else with him,” said Quinby. “He ought to run for property appraiser. There are two sides to the coin and these property owners do have a date set so they can have their argument heard before a magistrate and all of these people will be heard.” 

“I Said, ‘That’s a Bribe.’”

One of those scheduled to be heard before the Valuation Adjustment Board is 70-year-old Nicolas Chater. The assessed value for his 3,000 square-foot home on Crayton Road in The  Moorings doubled, from $1.275 million in 2021 to $2.57 million in 2023. 

The increase meant that Chater’s property tax doubled as well, to $25,000, a hit Chater, an Englishman new to the state, said he wasn’t prepared for. 

“People in this town are very well off and they don’t even look at [their property tax bills],” said Chater. “I have to look at it and I’m sure a lot of people, if they actually looked at it, would complain as well.” 

With the help of Suarez, Chater is challenging the assessment. An accountant by trade, he researched comparable sales, and based on 26 of them, determined his property should be assessed at $1.8 million, a number that roughly matched Suarez’s calculations as well. 

Chater filed a petition to be heard by the VAB and contacted the property appraiser’s office directly to “horse trade,” just as Piekenbrook had done. The property appraiser’s office quickly offered in a letter to reduce his valuation by $200,000, by including Chater’s purported Hurricane Ian damage.  That offer came with a condition Chater found irksome.

“It is also part of this agreement that you will withdraw the 2023 Value Adjustment Board petition … and that no lawsuit contesting the adjusted values will be filed for the 2023 tax year,” senior land appraiser MaryAnne Greger wrote. 

Not only was the assessment still a half million dollars above his $1.8 million valuation, Chater felt he was being pressured to give up his rights to contest the assessment. 

“I said, ‘That’s a bribe,’” said Chater. “I’m not withdrawing my petition.”

Both he and Suarez are set for hearings before the VAB board on Thursday, and two other Moorings homeowners also have hearings scheduled in the coming weeks. Piekenbrook, meanwhile, had her VAB hearing on November 28. She laid out her case before the magistrate and will learn the fate of her petition within 20 days. 

It will come none too soon for Suarez, who was at her side at the hearing and spoke on her behalf. 

“We made our case,” he said after the hearing. “Now we’ll see what comes out of it.” 

About the Author: Bob Norman is an award-winning investigative reporter who serves as Editor-in-Chief of the Florida Trident and journalism program director for the Florida Center for Government Accountability. He can be reached at or by phone at 954-632-4343.