Tuesday, January 16, 2018
Business

Duke underpays Citrus County tax bill for second straight year

For the second year in a row, Duke Energy has paid only part of its property tax bill in Citrus County.

This time, the state's second-largest utility paid just under $22 million of the $62.5 million the county said it owed. The move comes a year after Duke, the county's largest single taxpayer, paid just $19 million of its $34 million appraisal.

The county, anticipating Duke's low payment, raised the millage rate by 30 percent, which will cost a resident with a $100,000 home about $13 a year.

Geoffrey Greene, the Citrus property appraiser, said Duke's decision shifted the utility's responsibility "to the citizens of Citrus County."

A year ago, Duke plunged Citrus into an economic crisis by paying just over half of its tax bill and suing the county over the rest. At the time, Duke's tax bill made up about 26 percent of the county's property tax collections.

The utility said the property appraiser overvalued the pollution-control system on two coal units and the broken and now-shuttered nuclear reactor at the Crystal River power station in western Citrus County.

Sterling Ivey, a Duke spokesman, said the utility in May notified the county that it was disputing the assessed value of the Crystal River Energy Complex for the 2013 tax year.

"The company believes the valuation of its properties at the Crystal River Energy Complex in Citrus County is overstated," Ivey said. "We are committed to paying our fair share of taxes, but also have an obligation to our customers and shareholders to challenge situations in which we believe our property has been overvalued."

Any reduction in what the utility owes would save customers money. But that savings also means a loss of revenue for Citrus, a rural county of 140,000 people about 65 miles north of St. Petersburg.

So far, Duke has won the dispute over the pollution-control system. Circuit Judge T. Michael Johnson ruled Nov. 8 that Citrus did not give an accurate value for that equipment. Instead of market value, the judge determined, the pollution-control should have been calculated as "salvage."

The decision means Duke's tax bill would likely be about $10 million lower than Citrus calculated — $24 million in 2012 and $52.5 million for 2013.

The court still must rule on the exact value of Duke's assets. Citrus assessed the total value of the property at $2.3 billion in 2012. In 2013, the assessed value climbed to $3.42 billion after an outside appraiser determined that Duke underreported some assets and didn't report others at all.

Ivey said that along with its good-faith payment, Duke also filed complaints challenging Citrus' tax assessments.

Citrus still aims to recoup some of the tax money it believes it is owed, but that will have to be settled in court.

Greene said he is "reaching out for mediation" but is unsure what Duke will ultimately decide.

"We're hoping to consolidate the two lawsuits into one in May," Greene said. "We'll try to deal with everything at one time."

Ivan Penn can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 892-2332.

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