Thursday, April 19, 2018
Editorials

Editorial: Tax delinquency should curb tourist center plan

Hernando County commissioners shouldn't become business partners with a tax delinquent. • That possibility exists because the owner of Blue Pelican Marina at Hernando Beach owed nearly $20,000 in county property and tangible taxes and penalties for 2013 as of earlier this week. Known as 5000 Calienta Street LLC, the business simultaneously is seeking to partner with Hernando government on an education/tourism center on its land abutting Shoal Line Boulevard.

Under the proposal, the center would be built on land the county would buy from the marina owners. The Legislature approved $4 million for the project, envisioned by the county as a key part of turning Hernando Beach into a tourist destination. Though no deal has been struck, and county officials maintain they are investigating other potential sites, the tourism/education center is referenced in the company's rezoning request to allow a resort on land now zoned for agricultural and other uses. Commissioners are scheduled to hear the zoning request, which has drawn loud objections from Hernando Beach residents, on June 24.

Commissioners should be leery. Consummation of a real estate transaction between the county and the marina owners would insult every taxpayer in Hernando who fulfills their tax obligations in a timely manner. And despite the ridiculous contention from Gordon Wolf, the principal of 5000 Calienta Street LLC, his business model is not the norm. Wolf rationalized his tardy tax bill to Tampa Bay Times staff writer Barbara Behrendt by saying "We pay the taxes when we pay them. All businesses do that.''

Hardly. Data from the Hernando Property Appraiser and Tax Collector offices show 93 percent of the property owners in Hernando County paid their 2013 tax bills by the April 1 due date. The rest are subjected to accruing penalties and interest if disposed of at a tax certificate sale.

Wolf is fortunate he isn't operating in Pasco County. There, a 2012 revision to the land development code requires property owners to be current on their tax obligations before land use changes will be considered. It's a logical rule to ensure tax delinquents aren't getting a pass on paying their fare share of the cost of government while simultaneously adding to the government's expense.

No such policy exists in Hernando County, but certainly county officials have the discretion of putting delinquent property at the bottom of their site list for a tourist/education center. County Administrator Len Sossamon said the county is still reviewing other potential sites including two of its own: 16 acres that is home to a sewage treatment plant scheduled for decommissioning and property used as a convenience center for residential trash disposal and recycling.

The county also is looking at land controlled by the Southwest Florida Water Management District in the Weeki Wachee Preserve. All are reasonable alternatives that won't add traffic to two-lane Shoal Line Boulevard.

Last week, Commissioner Nick Nicholson, without elaboration, publicly stated his opposition to an education/tourist center along Shoal Line Boulevard. The rest of the commission should consider the wisdom of using tax dollars to enrich a private land owner failing to pay its own share of tax dollars to the county.

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