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School district loses suit; Hernando HMA doesn't owe taxes, judge rules

BROOKSVILLE — The company that owns Brooksville and Spring Hill Regional hospitals does not owe the Hernando County School Board current and back taxes, a judge has ruled.

The school district had sued Hernando HMA, Inc., the parent company of both hospitals, contending the company's lease with Hernando County made the properties taxable.

The Hernando County Property Appraiser also was named as a party in the lawsuit.

Under the agreement, the county leases the facilities to HMA for an annual fee. Brooksville Regional Hospital paid a $252,178 fee this year in lieu of property taxes, while Spring Hill Regional paid $198,195.

County-owned property is exempt from ad valorem taxes, but the school district argued the leaseholder — in this case a private, for-profit company — must pay taxes.

Not so, Fifth Circuit Judge Daniel B. Merritt Jr. ruled.

HMA "has merely the right to use ... and is not the beneficial owner,'' he wrote. "Therefore, the leasehold interest of HMA is intangible personal property and is not subject to local taxation."

The suit did not specify an amount, but school officials have estimated that a ruling in the school district's favor could have meant as much as $1 million annually.

Robert L. Nabors, bond counsel with the Tallahassee firm of Nabors, Giblin & Nickerson, argued the case for the district. He was reading Merritt's order when reached Tuesday and deferred comment to School Board attorney Paul Carland.

Carland said he and Nabors would need to review and discuss the ruling, but the School Board will have to decide whether to continue the fight in appeals court.

"We're going to have to come back to the board and talk about our options at some point," Carland said.

He acknowledged legal fees will likely be a factor.

The fees are paid out of Carland's budget, which is part of the general fund.

Tony Marrero can be reached at tmarrero@sptimes.com or (352) 848-1431.

School district loses suit; Hernando HMA doesn't owe taxes, judge rules 11/03/09 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 3, 2009 7:42pm]
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