Tuesday, November 21, 2017
News Roundup

Owners of controversial Pasco landfill site sue over tax bill

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DADE CITY — A company engaged in a seven-year war with local and state officials to build a controversial landfill near the Green Swamp is now suing Pasco County over its property tax bill.

Angelo's Aggregate Materials, based in Largo, filed the case last month in circuit court against Pasco Property Appraiser Mike Wells. It alleges that the appraiser's office overvalued two of its 10 pieces of land, which include a construction debris landfill and 30 acres proposed for a household garbage landfill that has drawn widespread opposition from neighbors, local governments and environmentalists.

"The Property Appraiser's failure to comply with the standards set forth in Florida Statutes, results in an arbitrary value outside of professionally accepted appraisal processes and standards," according to the complaint, filed by Tampa lawyer Blake Gaylord.

Wells had one thing to say about the lawsuit: Bring it on.

"We're ready," he said, adding that he's confident in his staff. "We're anxious to get this before a judge."

Wells also contends that the values may be "way low" and the company's strategy could end up backfiring.

"We're taking this case very seriously," he said.

The lawsuit follows a successful effort by Angelo's to reduce the value of the two properties from about $2.7 million to about $2.3 million, which translates into a total tax bill of $43,510. That's about $7,000 less than the company would have paid, Wells said.

Angelo's got the reduced amount by filing a petition with the county's Value Adjustment Board. The company said the valuation for both parcels should have been $1.1 million. A property value that low would have saved Angelo's about $27,000 in taxes, Wells said.

A special magistrate heard the case in December and recommended the reduction to $2.3 million, which the value adjustment board members signed off on two months later without a hearing.

Magistrate Steve Nystrom said in his findings that while the property appraiser's methods were not arbitrary, they failed to properly calculate income and expenses the property generates.

"Data presented at the hearing allowed for a greater refinement of the available data to arrive at a somewhat lower value conclusion," Nystrom wrote.

In its complaint, the company included receipts to show it paid its tax bill of $43,510 by the Nov. 30 deadline and asked for a refund if a judge finds the land is overvalued.

This marks the first time the company has sued Wells, but it isn't the first time Angelo's has protested its property values. In 2007, it petitioned the value adjustment board, but the case ended after the company and the appraiser reached a settlement.

"We pretty much left them alone because they had their engineers," Wells said. "Now we're hiring an expert."

Gaylord could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

Angelo's lawsuit is the latest action in a seven-year war that has not endeared the company to county officials.

In 2006, Angelo's proposed building a landfill that would handle household waste next to the existing construction landfill off Enterprise Road near the edge of the Green Swamp.

The proposal first was promoted as another option to solve Pasco's growing garbage disposal problem, which was being handled primarily by an incinerator. The plan quickly drew opposition from a host of groups, including neighbors, two prominent ranchers and local governments who fear its proximity to drinking water sources for Zephyrhills and Tampa. It also spurred involvement from corporate giant Nestle Waters North America Inc., which pumps hundreds of gallons from Crystal Spring for its spring water label.

The state Department of Environmental Protection has twice rejected requests for permits. Those refusals have been appealed and are pending with the state Division of Administrative Hearings.

Angelo's also sued the county and accused it of changing its land use policies to prevent the company from building a landfill on the site.

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