Blaise Ingoglia — builder, motivational speaker and professional poker player — became the local face of tax revolt last year with his "Government Gone Wild" seminars.
He blasted Hernando County's "runaway spending and lack of accountability." He pledged to contribute $25,000 to oust county commissioners, writing in a Hernando Times guest column last year that politicians, like dirty diapers, "should be changed often and for the same reasons."
But this is what I think, as does every housing analyst I've talked to: real estate speculators are far more to blame for inflated property taxes than politicians.
And, while reporting on real estate flipping in Royal Highlands last week, I was reminded of Ingoglia's key role in luring speculators to Hernando.
So, when it comes to taxes, this is one more reason not to listen to Ingoglia, who has a history of distorting facts about county spending: He has no room to talk.
See, property tax rates in Hernando County have gone down rather than up in recent years; our higher tax bills are due solely to higher property tax appraisals.
Though land and houses really did become worth more as the county grew, here and across the state, the root cause of inflated prices was speculation — "the tremendous amount of flipping back and forth," said Jack McCabe, a real estate analyst from Deerfield Beach.
One of Ingoglia's companies, Hartland Homes, has bought and sold more than 200 lots in Hernando and has built 453 houses here since 2003, according to county records.
But until mid-2006, Ingoglia said, that's all Hartland did — flip lots and build houses — while a Fort Myers real estate agency marketed his homes to investors, many of them from out of state.
"We were not drawing (investors)," he said. "We were accepting contracts."
Even if you believe this, even if you believe he had no say in how a company he worked with for three years advertised his houses, after 2006 he clearly was pitching his houses — along with the dangerous idea that Florida real estate could be a can't-miss investment.
Ads for his speaking engagements in 2007 promised Ingoglia would share "insider secrets of how to make millions with new home construction … (and) how you can continually make $100K per year with little or no money down."
Until early 2007, the Hartland Web site featured, as a "sample of a typical transaction," an investor paying $182,000 for a house worth $250,000, and earning $68,000 of "equity in property now."
"It is an easy way to 'lock in' equity in a property and cash in on the old investing adage, 'buy low and sell high,' " the site said.
Steven Trager of suburban Philadelphia said that, yes, the Fort Meyers Realtor was the one who promised he could quickly turn a $75,000 profit on a house he agreed to build in 2006.
But Hartland built the home, which cost him $216,000. It is now appraised at $168,000, and stands empty, like hundreds of others in Royal Highlands. It also faces foreclosure.
"I definitely got bamboozled," he said.
Which is just what could happen to us if we listen to Ingoglia on the subject of property taxes.