Wednesday, June 20, 2018
News Roundup

Pinellas says no way to Pasco property tax bill

NEW PORT RICHEY — Pasco County says its coastal neighbor to the south is a tax scofflaw — again.

For the second year in a row, Pinellas County hasn't paid the property taxes on 12,400 acres it owns in central Pasco, reigniting a feud from last year when it told Pasco it wouldn't pay up.

Pinellas' tab for the 2012 and 2013 tax years, including interest and penalties: $112,400, according to Pasco Tax Collector Mike Fasano, who called the dispute an embarrassment to Pinellas leadership that needs to be corrected before it ends up in the courts.

"They have been paying taxes on that property for years and years and years and now all of sudden they have decided they are immune from paying taxes?" he said. "It's mind boggling."

Pinellas owns the Cross Bar and Al Bar ranches, north of State Road 52 and east of U.S. 41. The land is used for timber harvesting and cattle ranching, but it's prized more for its Tampa Bay Water-owned wellheads that supply drinking water to the region.

Pinellas bought the property in the 1970s fearing it might run out of water. For decades, it dutifully paid the taxes on the property. Then it stopped paying last year and sent a letter to Pasco officials stating the county didn't owe taxes on the land.

The declaration sparked a war of words between the neighboring counties.

"Basically, the state and subdivisions of the state are immune from taxation, and counties are considered subdivisions of the state," Pinellas Assistant County Attorney Joseph Morrissey said.

He said Pinellas paid its Pasco property taxes for years because of "an administrative decision that was made," but that era is over.

After a 2012 audit of the Cross Bar and Al Bar operations, the county learned it could save money by invoking sections of a statute and Florida's constitution that pertain to government immunity. Tens of thousands of dollars were at stake. From 2007 to 2011, the county paid close to $230,000 in taxes on the properties, the audit said.

Pasco tax officials insist Pinellas is misreading the law. They say Pinellas is immune from taxes only within its borders, not everywhere in Florida.

"That would be like the state of Florida going to Las Vegas and buying a casino and then saying, 'We're not going to pay the taxes on the casino,'" Pasco Assistant Property Appraiser Wade Barber said. "I don't think the state of Nevada would like that."

For now, the sides remain deadlocked.

Pasco has already sold the tax certificates for Pinellas' 2012 tax bill and next month will sell the certificates for 2013 unless Pinellas pays up, which isn't likely to happen.

Late last week, Pinellas sent a letter to Pasco reiterating its position:

"As you know, property owned by a county is immune from ad valorem taxation," Morrissey wrote to Fasano. "In the past, Pinellas County has voluntarily paid these levies. However, the county is no longer in a position to do so."

Fasano said Pinellas isn't just misreading the law. It's ignoring the law. State law allows taxpayers to challenge appraisals after tax notices go out in August and October, but Pinellas has never appealed its assessment — or even responded to the notices, he said.

Pasco finally got back a response late last week.

"What's boggling is we get a letter only because they got a late notice from us," Fasano said. "What did they do with the other notices? Throw them away?"

If the tax bill goes unpaid past 2014, Pinellas could lose the properties. Tax deed sales for delinquent properties generally occur after three years of non-payment.

Morrissey said the counties will resolve the issue before it comes to that.

Rich Shopes can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 869-6236.

Comments
Safety Harbor is no safe haven from cyberbullying

Safety Harbor is no safe haven from cyberbullying

SAFETY HARBOR — Mayor Joe Ayoub put forth a resolution Monday evening asking the City Commission to condemn cyberbullying.The result? The meeting devolved into shouting and whispering from the crowd and people storming out of chambers.The mayor’s res...
Updated: 3 minutes ago
Pasco Sheriff: Hudson man faces sexual battery charges

Pasco Sheriff: Hudson man faces sexual battery charges

HUDSON — A 33-year-old man is facing charges of sexual battery and rape after Pasco County Sheriff’s deputies said he assaulted a 14-year-old girl.Christopher Hall, who was 31 at the time of the incident, forced the victim into a bathroom, took off h...
Updated: 3 minutes ago
Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Kevin Kiermaier returns to the Rays

Sports Day Tampa Bay podcast: Kevin Kiermaier returns to the Rays

Times sports columnist Tom Jones joins Rick Stroud to discuss Kevin Kiermaier's return to the Rays, whether Victor Hedman should win the Norris Trophy for the NHL's best defenseman, Bucs expectations for this season and Barry Trotz's next c...
Updated: 4 minutes ago
SB traffic on I-275 slowed in St. Petersburg after car jumps median

SB traffic on I-275 slowed in St. Petersburg after car jumps median

ST. PETERSBURG — A car that is straddling the center concrete barrier is causing a visual slowdown Wednesday morning on Interstate 275.The incident occurred sometime around 7:30 a.m.The passenger side of the car can be seen hanging along the median o...
Updated: 8 minutes ago
Passenger in Bayshore crash that killed mother and toddler pleads not guilty

Passenger in Bayshore crash that killed mother and toddler pleads not guilty

TAMPA — Tristan Herrin, a passenger in the speeding black Mustang that struck and killed a woman and her young daughter last month as they tried to cross Bayshore Boulevard, renewed his not guilty plea Wednesday to a misdemeanor street racing charge....
Updated: 11 minutes ago
30 unlocked car burglaries in Clearwater reported in three days

30 unlocked car burglaries in Clearwater reported in three days

CLEARWATER — Police are investigating a series of car burglaries involving unlocked vehicles this week.In all, 30 unlocked vehicles have been broken into over the course of the past three nights, Clearwater Police reported Wednesday morning. In at le...
Updated: 16 minutes ago

Updated: 19 minutes ago

Updated: 21 minutes ago
Tampa Bay Times’ all-Hillsborough County girls basketball team

Tampa Bay Times’ all-Hillsborough County girls basketball team

Player of the Year: Kaliah Henderson, Jr., RobinsonFirst teamG Brylee Bartram, Jr., Seffner ChristianG Jacquelyn LeVay, Sr., AlonsoF/G Tarriyonna Gary, So., Carrollwood DayF Tiasia McMillan, So., Carrollwood DayC Kendal Cheesman, Fr., PlantSecond tea...
Updated: 25 minutes ago
Driver hospitalized after concrete truck collides with semi on I-75 near I-4

Driver hospitalized after concrete truck collides with semi on I-75 near I-4

TAMPA — A concrete-mixing truck and a semitrailer truck collided Wednesday morning on Interstate 75 near the I-4 junction, sending one of the drivers to the hospital, according to Hillsborough County Fire Rescue.The driver of the concrete truck was t...
Updated: 26 minutes ago