Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Cattle lease could save Hillsborough elections chief thousands in taxes

Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson

Hillsborough Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson

TAMPA — In seeking a $608,573 agricultural tax exemption on a rural tract he bought last year, Hillsborough County Elections Supervisor Buddy Johnson is relying on an annual lease of his land to a part-time farmer for $1 per acre.

Johnson is allowing the farmer to use his 19.98 acres for cattle grazing for $20 a year. With the cows on his land, Johnson hopes to be granted a "greenbelt" tax exemption that could knock more than $12,000 off his tax bill.

The part-time farmer who agreed to lease Johnson's property off Thonotosassa Road in Plant City is William Kenneth Grimmer, 41, a trucker licensed to operate tank trucks and semitrailer trucks.

Reached on his cell phone in Pensacola on Friday, Grimmer said he owns 16 head of cattle and placed 11 of them on Johnson's land last year after agreeing to the $1-per-acre lease.

"He's not making any money off that property with a $20 lease, I can tell you that," said Grimmer, who has the responsibility to maintain the property as pasture land.

But with the Grimmer cows grazing on his new property, Johnson has filed applications for greenbelt tax exemptions that could reduce the assessment of his land from $614,428 to $5,855. That would lower his property tax bill from $12,626 to $120.

Grimmer said all his cows are being raised for exhibition in FFA shows around the Southeast.

That is likely to be a key factor in the property appraiser's determination of Johnson's exemption requests.

Florida law allows greenbelt exemptions where there is a "bona fide agricultural use with a reasonable expectation of making a profit," according to Will Shepherd, general counsel for the office of Hillsborough Property Appraiser Rob Turner, whose office has until July 1 to rule on some 600 greenbelt applications.

Last year, in denying greenbelt status to an Odessa citrus grove overseen by Pinellas lawyer Tom Minkoff, Turner's staff found that although the operation used tractors, fertilizer sprayers, packing facilities and had citrus sales, it did not make a profit.

Turner's office concluded that Minkoff's property, which featured a lakefront home used as an occasional weekend retreat, was the site of activity that was "more hobby than business." Minkoff appealed the ruling stripping his groves of greenbelt status, but a special master upheld Turner's ruling.

Now, Johnson and his tenant, Grimmer, will have to prove that the livestock grazing on the Thonotosassa land aren't just a hobby but constitute a moneymaking, commercial operation.

"It's too early in the process for a decision," said Chief Deputy Property Appraiser Warren Weathers. "At this point we are still waiting for paperwork to come in and just beginning to make inspections."

Weathers said his office would ask for Grimmer's tax returns to test for agricultural profitability, as was done in the Minkoff case.

Grimmer said it was his idea, not Johnson's, to place his cattle on Johnson's property. Though agricultural land is still plentiful in Hillsborough, with an estimated 220,000 acres in use, Grimmer sought permission to use Johnson's property last March, almost immediately after Johnson bought it for $800,000.

"If you ask me, I think he overpaid for that property," said Grimmer. "But land in that area has been used for cattle grazing for years."

Grimmer said he moved his cattle to the Thonotosassa tract in May, two months after Johnson's purchase. Then, in July, two months after the cows had been moved to his property, Johnson platted the tract, subdividing it into six lots and naming it Oak Creek Estates.

Yet Johnson says he has no intention of developing the oak-shrouded land. He has moved into a 884-square-foot clapboard home at the rear of the property and says he hopes his three children will one day occupy homes on adjoining lots.

Johnson, who is up for re-election this year, declined to answer questions forwarded to his office this week about the tax matters. He did not return a call from the St. Petersburg Times on Friday.

"I don't quite understand what the issue is," Johnson said in a telephone call broadcast Thursday morning by WFLA radio. "They haven't even ruled on (the greenbelt applications). It's not like I put one orange tree in the front yard. That's not something Buddy Johnson would do."

Times researcher John Martin contributed to this report.
Jeff Testerman can be reached
at [email protected]
or (813) 226-3422.

Cattle lease could save Hillsborough elections chief thousands in taxes 03/14/08 [Last modified: Thursday, March 20, 2008 9:02am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Senate to take up AUMF debate as Trump defends reaction to Niger attack


    WASHINGTON — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is taking up a long-awaited debate about authorizing military force against the Islamic State as President Trump comes under unprecedented public scrutiny for his treatment of dead soldiers' families, following an ambush on troops helping to fight Islamic …

  2. In fear and vigilance, a Tampa neighborhood holds its breath


    TAMPA — There was a time, not long ago, when Wayne Capaz would go for a stroll at night and Christina Rodriguez would shop whenever she wanted. Michael Fuller would go to his night job as a line cook, not too worried about his wife at home.

    More than 50 people gathered and walked in the Southeast Seminole Heights community Friday to pay respects to the victims of three shootings. The crowd took a moment of silence at the corner of 11th Street and East New Orleans where Monica Hoffa was found dead. [JONATHAN CAPRIEL  |  Times]
  3. Fennelly: What's not to like about Lightning's start?

    Lightning Strikes

    BRANDON — No one is engraving the Stanley Cup. No one has begun stuffing the league MVP ballot box for Nikita Kucherov.

    The Lightning, with a win tonight, would match the best start in franchise history, 7-1-1 in the 2003-04 Cup season.
  4. Study: Pollution kills 9 million a year, costs $4.6 trillion


    NEW DELHI — Environmental pollution — from filthy air to contaminated water — is killing more people every year than all war and violence in the world. More than smoking, hunger or natural disasters. More than AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria combined.

    New Delhi’s landmark India Gate, a war memorial, is engulfed in morning smog on Friday.
  5. Quarterback Jameis Winston will start Sunday for the Bucs


    TAMPA — Jameis Winston hadn't thrown in practice since he injured his right shoulder in Sunday's loss at Arizona, and with that uncertainty, a wide line of TV cameras and reporters' cellphones were all out Friday morning, recording the moment as Winston tested his shoulder with his first throws early in …

    Despite a sore shoulder, Jameis Winston will be making his 38th consecutive start since being drafted first overall in 2015.