Read our exclusive Q&A with Orange County Property Appraiser candidate Amy Mercado.
City/town: Born and raised in the Bronx; has called Orange County home for 25 years
Family: Mom of six adult children
Education: Executive MBA, Jack Welch Management Institute at Strayer University; bachelor’s degree in business administration with concentration in management, American Intercontinental University
Qualifications: I started my career in the healthcare industry at St. Barnabas Hospital in the Bronx and when I relocated to Florida, I expanded my career to include administrative and clinical critical care at Florida Hospital Orlando (now AdventHealth). Additionally, I have experience working as a project manager for several public finance attorneys in Central Florida.
Most recently, I have served as the director of operations for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Mango Board, in which I am responsible for managing a multimillion dollar budget, overseeing a multinational board, reputation and crisis management, organizational leadership, vendor procurement, compliance and human resources.
Since 2016, I have had the privilege of serving the residents of Orange County as a legislator in Tallahassee for Florida House District 48.
Why are you running for Orange County property appraiser?
I am running for Orange County property appraiser because the community has lost faith, trust and respect for the institution that is the OCPA office.
What qualities and skills do you bring to the position?
I will bring competence and integrity back to the office with the experience I have gained as a businesswoman and as a state legislator. I will turn around the Orange County Property Appraiser’s office, because I have a blended, multi-faceted, multinational business background which spans across the health care, legal and agricultural industries for several decades.
Why are you the best candidate?
I have years of experience in enabling organizational innovation, which includes human resource management, risk mitigation, crisis management, policy development, financial compliance and responsible agency spending, with overall efficiency and transparency. Furthermore, I have public finance experience relating to multi-million-dollar real-estate transactions, such as the financing of multifamily rental housing developments similar to the programs administered by the Orange County Housing Finance Authority. As a director of operations and a state legislator, I have and continue to invest a significant amount of time learning the laws and rules applicable to Florida real estate and beyond. As a legislator I have filed, researched, debated and voted on laws affecting taxes, economic development, land use, housing, community development districts, condominiums, homeowners associations and agricultural land use. I am ready on Day One to lead the property appraiser’s office to ensure a fair and equitable tax roll.
What are the challenges of this office unique to Orange County?
The situation the incumbent has created for himself is unfortunate, to say the least, but only he can answer to any of it. What is important to me is the restoration of the public’s trust in the property appraiser’s office and position. Our residents’ hard-earned dollars must be managed and used appropriately. We need full transparency within the entire chain from the elected appraiser to customer-service representatives.
How would you rate the performance of the Orange County Property Appraiser’s Office and why?
While the office itself has many talented appraisers and employees, the office is led by a man who has been hit with multiple lawsuits from former employees, including accusations of racist comments and sexual harassment. He has used taxpayer money for personal travel to India, Europe and all over the United States. Additionally, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has recommended charges of official misconduct after destroying documents while he was being investigated by WFTV for mishandling of finances in the office. Therefore, from Day One, my priority is to establish a capable transition team that can help outline proposed changes and address key issues which would likely include the initiation of a forensic audit.
What, if any, changes need to be made to the department?
One of the main things that need to be changed is how litigious the office has become with taxpayer dollars. Finding ways of building consensus and negotiating better outcomes is necessary, not to mention lowering the number of staff turnover the office has faced.
If elected, what do you hope to accomplish as property appraiser?
The property appraiser’s office needs to be one of the most accessible and transparent offices in the county. That is currently not the case. The first thing I will accomplish is the removal of the veil of secrecy in the office. I will also expand community outreach and educational programs and resources so our residents and property owners are aware of exemptions, the appraisal process and more. Unlike the incumbent, I will not use our residents’ hard-earned money for personal travel or personal gain.
What are the challenges this office will face during and and after COVID-19, and how will you address those challenges?
Due to COVID-19, property owners are in for a shock when they receive their TRIM notices in August. Florida’s property taxes are based on values as of Jan. 1, but COVID-19 began affecting the state after that date. Property owners will look to the Legislature for some type of property tax relief. That relief can only come from the state Legislature. Having been a state representative and ranking Democratic member of the Ways and Means Committee, I am in the best position to advocate for legislative tax relief.