NEW PORT RICHEY — County Commission candidate John Nicolette has ripped Commissioner Ted Schrader's record on property taxes and rising county spending.
But Nicolette has struggled to pay his own taxes, records show.
The Republican challenger has been delinquent on property taxes for six properties, totaling more than $27,000 in bills with interest and fees. Tax lien certificates were issued on each parcel before Nicolette finally paid the bills last summer and this spring.
Two other commission candidates have also fallen behind on their taxes. Republican Matt Matey and Democrat Terri Conroy — who both lost their jobs in the housing downturn — had late tax bills for 2007.
But Nicolette, 46, has pressed hardest for property tax relief in his campaign for the District 1 seat covering east Pasco. He has blasted Schrader for "tax and spend policies." And unlike Matey and Conroy, Nicolette is a millionaire, reporting a net worth of $4.5-million, mostly from real estate.
Nicolette did not return calls seeking comment Tuesday evening, but he issued a statement through campaign consultant Anthony Pedicini.
"Like many others in Pasco County who have struggled with high property taxes, I struggle, too," said Nicolette, a Tampa firefighter and hunt club operator who reported $219,000 in income for 2007.
"I work hard, play by the rules, and pulled myself up from my bootstraps and did the right thing and paid my bills."
Over the past eight years, the County Commission has cut its tax rate about 40 percent. Rising land values bumped up tax bills and revenue, however.
The late bills for Nicolette were on investment properties, which do not have a homestead tax deduction or the Save Our Homes cap on assessment increases.
Unlike most candidates, Nicolette's tax information is outside the public view on county Web sites. A public records exemption allows county officials to withhold Nicolette's home address from public records because he is a firefighter. But the property appraiser and tax collector have gone a step further and pulled all of Nicolette's property records from their searchable Internet databases.
The Times obtained the receipts in a public records request after being initially turned back.
Those records show Nicolette was delinquent paying the 2005 taxes on two properties near State Road 52 and Curley Road. He paid nearly $17,600 on April 30 of this year to settle the bill.
Nicolette also was delinquent on 2006 taxes for four properties that help make up his ranch off Darby Road west of Interstate 75. He paid off nearly $1,300 in back taxes for three properties on June 19, 2007.
Nicolette paid the fourth bill, nearly $8,400, this May.
The other candidates are late with less.
Matey owes $2,111 from his 2007 taxes on his New Port Richey house.
Conroy owes the county $826 for her New Port Richey home, according to the Tax Collector's Office, although she told the Times she paid the bill Tuesday afternoon.
Matey is running against six-term Commissioner Ann Hildebrand and challenger Wil Nickerson in the Aug. 26 GOP primary. Conroy faces Nicholas Planck in the Democratic primary. The winners will run in the November general election to represent District 3, which covers southwest Pasco.
Conroy and Matey acknowledged the awkwardness of asking for votes while being behind on their taxes. Both have promised to watch government spending if elected, though they have made taxes a lower-priority issue than other topics, such as job creation.
Matey, 52, said he lost his job as an electrician in June. Besides tough finances, he blamed the lack of an escrow account and potentially missing mail for his lapse in paying taxes.
"It was a mistake," said Matey, who disclosed the back taxes in an interview. "If my economic situation would have been a little different, we would have made it up as soon as we found it. Well, now we're trying to scramble to find a way to take care of it."
Conroy, 49, was a permitting manager for Lexington Homes until losing her job in December. She also helps run an online newspaper, Bay Area Tradewinds. She relies on $550 of unemployment benefits every two weeks.
"I know it's an issue," she told the Times, noting her record is otherwise clean. "I know it's all you found."
David DeCamp can be reached at email@example.com or (800) 333-7505, ext. 6232.