Service Thursday for the late assessor Higgs

Ervin Higgs literally took the Monroe County Property Appraiser's Office from the pen-and-ink era into the computer age.

Mr. Higgs, a fourth-generation Key West native who died this week just days after his 80th birthday, will be remembered at memorials Thursday.

"To me, Ervin Higgs was the perfect example of what a public servant should be -- he knew his job, he did his job and he was always fair," Monroe County Commissioner Danny Kolhage, a longtime friend, said Friday.

A memorial service at the Basilica of St. Mary Star of the Sea, 1010 Windsor Lane in Key West, will be held at 3 p.m. Thursday followed by a 4:30 p.m. celebration of life at the Truman Little White House, 111 Front St.

Mr. Higgs retired as property appraiser in 2011 after 46 years with the agency that reviews Florida Keys real estate for tax purposes.

"That job is controlled by the Florida Constitution and state law," Kolhage said. "Ervin would not allow anyone to influence him."

Mr. Higgs joined the office of Monroe County Tax Assessor Joe Allen in 1965 after service in the U.S. Air Force and graduating from the University of Pittsburgh. He graduated from Key West High School in 1954.

Mr. Higgs soon was named chief deputy to Allen and was appointed as county property appraiser in 1976 by Gov. Reubin Askew. Voters returned Higgs to office for eight four-year terms.

Soon after joining the assessor's office, the state ordered a major property update for all 67 counties. Higgs wound up field-checking sites and using his engineering and drawing skills to laboriously update by hand the aging, faded Monroe County maps over a two-year period.

Mr. Higgs in the mid-1970s oversaw the first computerization of Monroe County's tax roll, when massive machines filled a full-size room.

During his tenure, the Monroe County tax roll went from $988 million in 1976 to $26.5 billion in 2011.

"When it comes to evaluation of property, especially in Monroe County, we were going through tremendous change," Kolhage said. "We went from a time when anything was possible here in terms of development to becoming concerned with our environment and being able to maintain it."

"All of that had to be factored into evaluating property," the commissioner said. "It was very difficult to figure out and Ervin pioneered that process."

The Higgs family suggests memorial donations go to the Ervin Higgs Scholarship Fund in care of the Key West Rotary Foundation, 1107 Key Plaza, Box 294, Key West, FL 33040.