Pinellas County is a delinquent taxpayer, Pasco officials say
The water wars between Pasco and Pinellas counties may be ancient history, but a new fight is brewing — this time, over property taxes.
Pasco County officials say Pinellas owes them roughly $59,000 in back taxes on 12,400 acres it owns in the central part of the county. Known as the Cross Bar and Al Bar ranches, the land is used for timber and pine straw harvesting, as well as cattle ranching, but its most important assets are the Tampa Bay Water-owned wellheads that supply the region with millions of gallons of drinking water each year. Recently, Pasco County commissioners made a failed bid to buy back the land.
Afraid that it would run out of water, Pinellas bought the land in the mid 1970s, kicking off a years-long fight with Pasco over groundwater pumping. Since then, Pinellas has dutifully paid taxes on it. But that era is over, Pinellas officials told the Pasco property appraiser in letter sent in April.
Pinellas paid the taxes for decades "voluntarily" and out of goodwill, officials said, until an audit last year raised the possibility that the land might be exempt. Property owned by a county outside its borders is taxed, according to state law. But it may be immune from taxation if it's used mainly for educational, literary, scientific or charitable purposes. Pinellas officials say the Cross Bar Ranch, which is a refuge for wildlife and hosts educational programs for Pasco students, meets that criteria.
"Naturally, I believe that they're wrong and I'm right," said Wade Barber, Pasco's deputy property appraiser.
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