Before Pinellas County commissioners dole out concessions to help a developer build a project, they ought to know whether that developer has paid his county taxes. Why should the public give a break to a developer if the developer won't uphold his financial obligation to the community?
Few people like paying their property taxes, but doing so is a citizen's obligation. Even in these difficult times, most people will find a way to pay their taxes and will ask in return only that their local government provide the services that make their communities safe and desirable.
So it is disconcerting that three prominent Pinellas County developers who won project approvals and concessions from the county government didn't consider paying their county tax bills a priority.
St. Petersburg Times staff writer Will Van Sant reported recently that Grady Pridgen, Matt Geiger and Roger Broderick were in arrears on their county taxes. The story noted that Pridgen, one of the highest-profile developers in Pinellas, owed $291,091 in back taxes. Almost $135,000 of that amount had been owed since the 2006 tax year — before the economy began its slide downhill. Nevertheless, last summer Pridgen had the nerve to ask the county for a big increase in the allowed density on his La Entrada project in mid Pinellas. County commissioners said they didn't know about the delinquent tax bill when they granted Pridgen's request.
Geiger, a former NBA player who owns a palatial estate in North Pinellas, is developing a 64-acre luxury housing community that has been granted several approvals and variances by the county. Yet the story reported that he owed the county $289,572 in back taxes — again, something county officials didn't know before they voted.
The third developer, Roger Broderick, owed $47,779 in back taxes last month when he got the county's go-ahead for his controversial Bayside Reserves affordable housing project near St. Petersburg-Clearwater International Airport. The County Commission not only approved the development agreement, but also donated 9 acres of public land to the project. When Broderick learned the Times was about to do a story on developers' delinquent tax bills, he ran right out and paid the bill, with interest.
Broderick contended that the county didn't have to do without its money because his tax debt was acquired by an investor in a tax certificate auction. Investors bid for the certificates and pay the delinquent tax bills. Property owners have two years to pay the owed taxes to the county, along with interest up to a cap of 18 percent, and the county then forwards the payment to the investor.
Broderick calls that "a way of borrowing money," but in fact it is avoiding the legal obligation to pay taxes so you can use the money for something else. Commissioners ought to know in advance when that is the way a developer does business.