FedEx loses latest round in Hillsborough property tax dispute

FedEx lost another round in its fight to keep from paying county property tax on its cargo building at Tampa International Airport.

The facility on airport property has been exempt since FedEx first leased the land in 2000. Hills­borough property appraiser officials say they mistakenly granted the exemption until they caught the error last year. Two special magistrates reviewed the case and denied appeals by FedEx.

Attorneys for the company on Monday asked the county's Value Adjustment Board to request an opinion from the state Attorney General's Office.

County Commissioner Sandy Murman told fellow adjustment board members that she worried about imposing a new tax on local businesses.

"The timing on this couldn't be worse … at a time this county is trying to lower unemployment and give companies tax breaks," she said. FedEx employs 300 people locally, Murman said.

But School Board member Susan Valdes, also on the adjustment board, said the company shouldn't continue to profit from the exemption because of the error. "It's important that we recognize if it was a mistake," she said. "I'm glad we caught it."

The board voted to uphold the most recent magistrate's ruling. The only recourse for FedEx now is to file suit in Hillsborough Circuit Court. The annual tax bill for 2010 is between $120,000 and $135,000, said Sanford Kelsey, an in-house attorney for the company.

It wasn't clear exactly how property appraiser staffers granted the exemption in the first place. Before opening the cargo building, FedEx operated out of a building shared by other airlines, said Will Shepherd, the property appraiser's staff attorney. Shared facilities on land owned by local authorities, such as the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, are exempt, Shepherd said.

It shouldn't have been a surprise to anyone that FedEx was using its own building during the first 10 years of its lease, Kelsey said.

There's another issue with the FedEx tax exemption: Exemptions can't be given to airport tenants who aren't performing an aviation-related function. Shepherd says the function must be something a private company is doing on behalf of the public agency.

FedEx attorneys, however, argued the business simply needs to deal with air transportation to get the exemption.

Steve Huettel can be reached at huettel@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3384.

FedEx loses latest round in Hillsborough property tax dispute 06/13/11 [Last modified: Monday, June 13, 2011 10:33pm]

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