Duke Energy's charitable foundation delivered nearly $500,000 to Citrus County business agencies earlier this month for economic development and tourism promotion. It was a nice gesture, but it would be more helpful for the utility to pay its $16.6 million property tax bill from 2012 — particularly after an independent appraisal suggests its predecessor companies may have been undervaluing its property for years.
Duke Energy's attempt to knock 54 percent off its 2012 property tax bill and a similar ploy that is expected for the coming fiscal year have left Citrus government agencies and the county school district scrambling to balance their budgets and forcing other taxpayers to pay for the corporate indifference. Citrus County government, for instance, proposed a 37 percent increase in its property tax rate and new fire fees to help maintain services.
For years, Duke Energy's predecessors, Progress Energy and Florida Power Corp., acquiesced to the assessed value assigned to its Citrus County properties in cooperation with the Citrus County property appraiser. That included a now-shuttered nuclear plant and four coal-burning plants in Crystal River. But last year, shortly after buying out Progress Energy, Duke Energy claimed the assessment was too high and valued its properties at $1.1 billion less than the amount set by county appraiser Geoffrey Greene. To prepare for Duke's court challenge, Greene retained an independent appraiser who discovered undisclosed and underreported assets at the complex. That discovery increased the current year's appraisal by almost 50 percent, to nearly $3.5 billion, and produced a $63 million tax notice to Duke for the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1.
Duke Energy is within its rights to challenge the government-set value of its properties. That's what value adjustment boards do in every county. But it is not enough to make a nice contribution toward rebuilding and diversifying the Citrus County economy while simultaneously withholding tens of millions of dollars for local schools and government.