ZEPHYRHILLS — Eugene Williams couldn't believe his eyes when he opened the envelope from the county tax collector last week.
His organization, the Coalition for the Homeless of Pasco County, regularly seeks state and federal funds to help with homeless outreach. The group has enjoyed tax-exempt status for years.
But last week as Williams perused the letter, in particular one line at the bottom, he was stunned: "Total due: $9,097.29."
"I flipped," he said.
It had to be a mistake, a clerical error. At a charity breakfast only a few hours earlier, Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano jokingly presented a faux tax bill to Williams, sparking laughs.
"Then I got back to the office and saw this," Williams said. "I just assumed the tax exemption was all taken care of."
It turns out it wasn't, and now the coalition, which depends on grants and charitable donations for its budget, is stuck with a bill it never expected.
Williams, the coalition's executive director, worries he'll be forced to dip into reserves, which in turn could impact future counseling and homeless initiatives.
"A $10,000 hit with no source of revenue will be hard on us," he said.
He called Fasano but the tax collector couldn't help because the bill is linked to two Zephyrhills properties — apartment complexes — assessed by the county appraiser's office last year.
The coalition helps groups like the Salvation Army and Catholic Charities seek grants for homeless outreach. It purchased the complexes in May 2012 from Workforce Ventures to house indigent families. They contain 20 units. Fourteen are occupied while the coalition makes renovations to the remaining six.
Because neither property was listed as tax-exempt in the appraisal — even though their owner is long-recognized by the federal government as a nonprofit — their status was never referenced as tax exempt at the tax collector's office.
Fasano said his hands are tied because of Florida law, adding that he made a $500 personal donation to help, but when it comes to tax breaks, "The statute is very clear on this."
Williams didn't know he needed to contact the property appraiser's office after the sale to show the properties are tax-exempt. He figured it wasn't necessary because the previous owner was a nonprofit, too.
After contacting Property Appraiser Mike Wells, Williams said he learned it's too late to adjust the bill, at least for the 2012 tax year. The group's bill is due March 31.
Wells said he wished he could help, too, but the deadline to file for late exemptions expired three months ago. Going forward, he advised Williams to visit his office after Jan. 1 to seek an exemption for the next tax year.
As for the current one, Wells said he hopes a Good Samaritan comes forward to help a group that for years has come to the rescue of Pasco's needy.
"I hope somebody will step up. This is such a worthy cause," he said.
Rich Shopes can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6236.