Is it fair to value Trump’s Jupiter golf club among richest in county?

President Donald Trump’s golf club here is among the mostly richly valued courses in the county, a fact that would seem to bolster his argument that he’s routinely overtaxed on the Trump National Golf Club.

However, special magistrates twice have ruled against Trump’s appeals of his property tax bill to the Value Adjustment Board. And experts in golf course appraisals say valuing the properties can be a tricky task.

Jupiter Golf Club LLC, owner of the Trump National Golf Club along Donald Ross Road in Jupiter, this month sued the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser to contest the course’s taxable value of $18.4 million. It was the fourth year in a row the company owned by Trump has sued over the club’s valuation.

The $18.4 million estimate means the property appraiser values the course’s 131 acres of land designated for golf at $140,802 per acre. Only the Palm Beach Country Club — located just a chip shot from the ocean — is worth more, at $149,956 per acre.

By that calculation, Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter is worth more per acre than every other course in the county, including St. Andrews Country Club in Boca Raton ($119,450 per acre) and the Breakers’ course in Palm Beach ($113,055 per acre).

While Palm Beach County houses near the ocean are valued at a premium, experts on valuing golf courses say a prime location isn’t always the main driver of value.

“Forget about price per acre. Forget about closer to the ocean,” said Larry Hirsch, an appraiser in Pennsylvania and author of Golf Property Analysis and Valuation: A Modern Approach. “The way you evaluate a property like that is based on its economics, and how much money it makes.”

Indeed, that’s how the Palm Beach County Property Appraiser defended its valuation of Trump National Golf Club after Trump challenged the county’s valuation in 2014. The property appraiser pegged Trump National National Golf Club’s annual revenue at $11.5 million and its net operating income at $1.66 million.

From there, the property appraiser used a capitalization rate — a common measure of a commercial property’s value — to arrive at its estimate.

Trump argued that the course was worth just $5 million because that’s how much he paid for it in December 2012.

In March 2015, Special Magistrate Terry Autrey ruled that the property appraiser convincingly defended its valuation, and that Trump “failed to overcome the presumption of correctness established at the hearing by the property appraiser.” In February 2017, Special Magistrate Harvel Gray reached an identical conclusion.

Even as he disputes the county’s $18 million estimate, Trump’s financial disclosures in 2016 and 2017 list the value of Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter as “over $50 million.”

The 7,500-yard course was designed by Jack Nicklaus. The club’s website describes amenities that include a 68,000-square-foot clubhouse, a 15,000-square-foot “Mediterranean-style” spa, a “world-class” fitness center, lighted tennis courts and a “tropical resort-style swimming pool.”

Based on the property appraiser’s latest estimate, Trump National Golf Club’s annual tax bill is $383,171.

The property-tax rate on the golf course is about 2 percent, so each $1 million reduction in taxable value saves Trump about $20,000 in annual property taxes.

Since his election in November, Trump frequently has played at the course, and in February Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe joined Trump there.

It’s not unusual for property owners to dispute tax valuations, and Trump has proven a particularly litigious businessman. However, it is unusual for a sitting president to be locked in a legal battle with local authorities.

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